A Review of Eat Pray Love – the movie

I had one surprisingly quiet evening to myself over the weekend. My husband was up in Edinburgh to see his good friend perform a one man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest. The children went down easily, so I made a little dessert for myself (hand-whipped cream with a dash of vanilla, some banana, and a spoonful of honey – divine) and put on a movie. I decided to watch Eat Pray Love – a pretty film, not requiring deep thought, and with a loosely Hindu theme. Also, Julia Roberts is easy on the eyes.

Years ago I stumbled across the book at a restaurant. It had been left at the table, with someone’s pay check inside! I decided to track down the person and mail them the book. I had heard about the book, but had written it off as ‘chick lit’. I’m not a fan of the memoir genre in general – ironic, since I blog. But I read the first few pages and got sucked in. I read the book in two days, then ran out and bought five copies, giving them to friends and keeping one for myself. I did send the book back to its owner.

The book struck a chord with me. I related to Elizabeth Gilbert‘s spiritual search, her love of food and the world, and her heart ache over her failed relationships. It had some problematic bits. Perhaps I wasn’t as put off by the obvious privilege, since much of her privilege is also my privilege (white, educated, relatively well-traveled). Bitch Magazine tackled many of the issues with this narrative – issues of class and race – in an article from 2010. Reading the criticism I could see the problems. Man, it would be so great if my spiritual quest was bankrolled! If I could just run off to Italy and India and Bali! Wouldn’t it be great to find fame and fortune AND spiritual peace! And also save an Indonesian single mother from homelessness, for good measure.

While these criticisms are good ones, I sort of think they miss the beauty of the book. Gilbert’s very human sadness and struggle comes through in her beautiful writing. I think her search for peace is genuine. However, in the movie, all the criticisms come screaming to the forefront.

The movie is really nothing more than a series glossy postcards. The photography is very beautiful. But it’s all a little ridiculous. Gilbert comes across as fickle and indulgent. The wisdom of the people she meets along the way sounds like trite ‘chicken soup for the soul’ soundbites. The film left me wistful and longing – but not for deeper spiritual connection or a more passionate engagement with life or more loving relationships. No, I felt wistful for a life less complicated – and by that I mean, no kids. But I don’t really want to live my life without my kids.

One particularly annoying moment early on in the film captures its identity crisis: Julia Roberts/Elizabeth Gilbert has decided to surrender to her love of food while in Rome. The scene focuses on her eating a bowl of spaghetti. The musical choice is opera, of course. Except, it’s the Queen of the Night Aria from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which is in German. Please click on the link if you are unfamiliar with this tremendous aria; you’ll likely find it is familiar. The video also shows the context of the aria (furious and vicious anger), which is completely inappropriate for a scene in which our main character happily eats a bowl of pasta.

I will give the film credit for inspiring me to think about the ways in which I let vanity rule my life. Mostly I was left with two thoughts: I need to look into saris and salwar kameez, and the movie is not as good as the book.

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