So, if I know anything about my blog readership – and I like to think that I do – I can tell that when you woke up this beautiful Sunday morning, the first thought that came into your head – surprisingly, but somewhat understandably – was, “I wonder when Sonic Charmer of RWCG will get around to watching and reviewing the Julia Roberts movie adaptation of eat pray love!”
Well it may have to wait another week or so, as I could only get through half of it last night. But ah, what a half! The eating! The praying! And yes, the loving!
For those who are late to the magical ride that it’s been, eat pray love is some sort of book that you would have seen-but-not-read about a zillion times if you had been to any Barnes & Noble at any time in the past 5 years. Now generally, the great thing about going to a Barnes & Noble is that to see such a book – its trendy may-as-well-have-been-written-by-Malcolm-Gladwell white cover with spare, centered graphics illustrating the title -
- is to not to have to ever read it. Hence, I don’t, and thus haven’t. Likewise, I know I shall never have to read one of those The Girl With.. books, or Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen, or The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver or, like, The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton. Merely to see any of these books is to instantaneously cure yourself of whatever craving or inclination (say, on the advice of some annoying, flighty acquaintance) you may have ever had the potential of developing for reading them. Thus, countless hours of precious life saved. Thanks Barnes & Noble! It’s like the anti-Oprah.
The writer of eat pray love, which I lowercase-ize in honor of the aforementioned trendy book cover, is one Elizabeth Gilbert. Having seen the book and having heard that it was something about ‘one woman’s travels in search of’ (whatever), many’s the time I furrowed my brow and puzzled and stewed over the fact that the Little House on the Prairie girl had actually grown up to be a bestselling author of this sort of tripe. It was only recently that some halfhearted and perfunctory google searches led me to a definitive conclusion that – however trivial this difference may seem – Elizabeth Gilbert was, technically, not the same person as Melissa Gilbert.
Since as you might guess I still carry something of a torch for the still-hot-in-a-homely-sort-of-way-IMHO ersatz Laura Ingalls, and occasionally dream of heroically defending her against the machinations of mean Mrs. Olsen and thereby winning her heart away from Manly, learning that eat pray love had literally nothing to do with Melissa Gilbert at all (as far as I can tell, Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t even like, her sister or anything; the whole thing is such a scam!) had successfully extinguished all further interest I may have had in the book itself.
But there’s always the movie version. And seeing as how this was rumored to star America’s favorite sweetheart and “pretty woman”, Julia Roberts, the medicine promised to go down a lot easier (or at least more briefly), and I relented. Because, who doesn’t love a good Julia Roberts vehicle where, as in all Julia Roberts vehicles, Julia Roberts plays a character much like Julia Roberts – tall, bony, ‘confident’, ‘strong’, ‘independent’, black-eyeball-having, mantis-like Julia Roberts. America’s heart just melts at the sight of her! Or at least, all the chicks open their pocketbooks.
On to the film then. Overall let me just say that to watch eat pray love is to be transported into an alien society. In a way, it’s an apt, female companion piece to Avatar, just, with less blue. Allow me to recap some of the perplexing-yet-fascinating-in-their-alienness developments of the film’s first hour. (SPOILERS!!1):
- At the beginning of the film, we are meant to understand that “Liz Gilbert” is some sort of famous and celebrated author. This is incomprehensible unless perhaps some kind of time travel is involved, because of our knowledge that the events in the film, being part of the eat pray love story, cannot possibly have taken place until after eat pray love came out and became a bestseller. However, for all I know, maybe she was indeed well-known in New York and they would actually line up in theaters to hear her recite from her banal writing. Who knows. New Yorkers will throng to the lamest of things and think they are being cutting-edge. But I’m still going with time travel.
- The setup is that she starts out married to a perfectly nice guy. So naturally, we are supposed to understand and sympathize with how miserable she is.
- Actually I’m being inaccurate because I’m not fully laying out her motivations and reasons for being unhappy. Her motivations consist of money, money, and money. You see, although Liz Gilbert is an independently-wealthy writer (being such a great and famous writer and all), her husband doesn’t have an Important Job. He is a pastry chef and is thinking about maybe going back to school for a Master’s in education. ALARM! NON BREADWINNER! Pastry chef-turned-school administrator doesn’t get you to Central Park West!, thinks Julia Roberts, and all the head-nodding women in the audience. Hence, she is “miserable”, and in short order, lesbian lawyer at her side, she divorces him, because she “doesn’t want to be married”. Of course not! All this guy is is a nice guy she’s been with for eight years. How is that supposed to be enough. Where’s the MONEY?
- There’s also an attempt at a hint that Gilbert is unhappy because she wants kids, or something. I mean, there’s no sign that Gilbert herself wants kids. But her soulful, wisdom-spouting, trendily-black best friend has a kid, and a box with kid stuff in it, and that’s very sweet, says Gilbert. The rest is left unstated. That’s because, clearly, it’s mostly about the money. Indeed, Gilbert’s “box” doesn’t have kid stuff in it, it has glossy travel stuff. Travel which is well nigh impossible, you see, being married to a man who doesn’t rake in the dough to support a lifestyle characterized by pointless and responsibility-less ‘traveling’ everywhere, and only possible if you have an important job as a ‘writer’ who (therefore) gets paid by a magazine to travel places, and of course, to write bestselling ‘memoirs’ at the ripe old age of 32 of your privileged yet basically uneventful life. Oh but yeah, it was about kids, that’s why she was miserable. Right
- You may say I’m being unfair. Consider: the movie opens with Gilbert visiting some sort of Hindu wise man in Bali. Among his predictions within the film’s first 3 minutes: you will lose all your money. When the husband isn’t enthused about some trip to Mexico, and instead voices a desire to maybe go to school for a Master’s (which will cost money, and he won’t be bringing in money while he does it, you see), the first thing she thinks is the prediction is coming true. What prediction? The money prediction. After all this is just a painful reminder that being with him, won’t necessarily allow her to travel wherever she wants whenever she wants regardless of expense or responsibilities. The very next scenes are: a thirty-second scene of prayerful soul-searching, and then the divorce. Bye bye!
- Then for about seven movie-minutes she has an improbable affair with a 15(?)-years-her-junior, soulful Brando-esque actor played by James Franco. This is done purely to ratify her status as a hot sexy woman whom all the guys crave, presumably. Speaking of, you should really take this opportunity to check out the normally-lame Roger Ebert’s excellent review of eat pray love for some genuine comedy gold – and I mean it, I literally laughed out loud here:
…her quest involves discipline in meditation, for which she allots three months rather than the recommended lifetime.
…she revisits her beloved adviser Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subiyanto), who is a master of truisms known to us all…
“Eat Pray Love”…mercifully reverses the life chronology of many people, which is Love Pray Eat.
but, more to the point, here:
She meets a man played by James Franco, about whom, enough said.
In his defense let me just say I really liked James Franco on Freaks and Geeks. I even liked Seth Rogen and that other flabby guy who was in that Sarah Marshall movie. That was a damn good show. Wait – where was I?
- In short order the movie switches over to Italy for literally the most cliched ‘and then she went to Italy!’ scenes in movie history. The Italians seem to have been none too amused. I will be forever grateful to Wiki for excerpting and translating, from an Italian review, this gem:
How many platitudes fit in a two-hour-twenty-minutes-long movie? [...] For example, in the long part shot in Rome, the mandolin is conspicuously absent. There’s a shower of spaghetti, Italians who gesticulate all the time and shout vulgarities as they follow foreign girls around. [...] There’s lots of pizza. But no mandolin. Why?
I stopped the thing just about when she left Italy (“eat”?) and went to India, presumably to “pray”. This will leave only Bali for the “love” of the third act, which sounds sordid although the DVD menu screen seemed to promise that Javier Bardem would at some point show up and have sex with her, and you know there’s nothing more that chicks love nowadays than to see Javier Bardem’s droopy eyes and yucky, screwed-up nose bespoiling some previously-high-class movie actress on screen. So there’s that to look forward to and I sure can’t wait to see how it turns out.
The deeper questions have already started to tug at my soul however and foremost among them: Why? Just why? Why was this thing made, why was this book written? What is it all about? Because as I said, the whole thing is essentially foreign to me. All of it. I don’t get it.
What does it mean that some random 32-year-old spoiled chick of no obvious merit or distinguishing achievement suddenly divorces her husband for no reason and then gets a book advance to go ‘traveling’ and write about it? What are we meant to be thinking about it all? And by ‘we’, I mean the target audience – of which I am obviously not a member. I wish I could understand, and get into the head of someone for which this stuff actually works as catnip. To such a person, I ask, in all sincerity: what does it all mean? What are you getting out of this? What am I supposed to get out of this? The generic New York apartment party at the beginning, the black friend, the baby, the divorce lawyer, the James Franco Hare Krishna vegetarian, the charmingly rustic Italian living with no hot running water, the Swedish not-quite-as-good-looking best friend, the spaghetti, the grab bag of Italians (translator guy, guy with beard, jovial fat guy, and their wives/mothers) she suddenly starts hanging out with for no reason, the scene discussing fat stomachs and buying bigger jeans but then inexplicably trying to squeeze into tight jeans anyway – the whole lot? Just why?
This is an alien story told in an alien language with alien grammar of an alien culture of which I know little and understand less. But clearly, someone exists on this wavelength. Well, I wish they could translate for me.
My instinct tells me that what’s going on here is mainly a sort of coronation of Elizabeth Gilbert as high-status female. Status can be achieved in many ways: by having an obscene amount of money, by landing some hunky actor or athlete, by simply being drop-dead gorgeous. Gilbert, presumably having failed at all of these, appears to have hit upon an increasingly-popular alternative strategy: conspicuous celebrity (the close cousin of conspicuous consumption). What is signaled by the divorcing of the husband, the writing of the book, the production of the Julia Roberts movie adaptation, is that Elizabeth Gilbert (whoever the hell she is, exactly) has sufficient means and independence to blow off all the men in her life, eschew any responsibility, go jet-setting on other peoples’ dime, do (essentially) nothing for months and months, and get guys to fall for her anyway. Other women watch this and lap it up because they are keen to see such successful status-signaling in action (if only to scour it for pointers and tips on how to do it, what excuses to tell yourself and others while you’re doing it, etc) and out of simple envy.
I, meanwhile, am watching it out of curiosity and fascination at the patterns and hierarchies, as I might gaze upon a children’s toy ant colony, or a beehive.