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Selfishness and vacuousness as feminist manifesto?  Is this what the female species has come to?  According to Eat Pray Love, it may not be the entire gender, just the ones who can afford to jet set across the globe to their heart’s content without a care as to the ruined lives left their wake on their all-important quest for self-fulfillment.

Based on the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love is a misfired attempt at chick flick epiphany.  Screenwriter/director Ryan Murphy seems clueless as to how incredibly unlikable and unrelatable his main character is.  Liz is a woman who has it all, yet for some unknown reason is never happy.  We’re meant to follow her journey as she tries to find some mythical inner contentment she imagines herself deprived of.  Lo and behold, after she calmly destroys one marriage to a decent, good looking bloke, then immediately after makes herself miserable in another relationship with a perfectly nice, even better looking gent; it becomes plain our alleged heroine’s inner peace lies in finding a third gorgeous fella to regale her with tales about how wonderful she is.  This left me to wonder if Liz’s middle name was Bella or Mary Sue?  Why is Liz so sad?  Nobody knows and we’re not going to find out in this two hour plus epic.  But she’s adamant she’s got to go somewhere and do something; so off she flies to immerse herself in all things Roman, particularly the carbohydrates.  Once she’s done the unimaginable and ordered a meal in passable Italian and even more shockingly learns to embrace that she can be happy as a size three as well as a size zero, she packs up off to India for further pursuit of the whole inner peace thing (And an easy way to get back into those Banana Republic sizes again.). 

Not that her journey to a famous guru’s ashram was even Liz’s idea; nope, she latched on to this theory because of the cute actor boy who was a serious devotee.  Because of all the (self-inflicted) chaos in her terribly tortured soul, Liz can’t calm herself enough for this miracle cure to take place.  After meeting people at the ashram who have it much rougher than she; like the young Indian girl facing an arranged marriage she can’t escape and a fellow American expat running from being a bad father, she feels better about herself and hies herself off to Bali where her whole journey started.  She happily bicycles along the rice paddies and around town between shifts spent searching for some unnamed wisdom at the knee of a toothless old medicine man she met years before on a reporting assignment (Where she only asked about herself.).  She’s even shady in her agreement to help the elderly shaman who asks her help in preserving centuries of priceless spiritual treasures and tracts:  Not one to do anything the long way, Liz nicks over to the Balinese Kinko’s when she’s meant to be copying the wise man’s notes by hand.  In the midst of the cheap vacation rentals and beautiful views, she finds her own stunning vista in a woeful single father, who of course teaches Liz how to love again.  Not being aware that Liz didn’t know how to love in the first place, as she seemed to really adore herself, this didn’t seem like much of a challenge.

The purported life lessons in Eat Pray Love are so shallow and unsatisfying I doubt they would pass muster on Oxygen or the Lifetime for Women TV channels (Though I did keep expecting to hear the Mighty Oprah’s booming voiceover narration as a bookend.). 

Compared to the cellophane-flimsy journey of self-discovery in this film, the wisdom found in your basic fortune cookie has the depth to perplex philosophers.  Liz’s unlimited cash flow shows that she is an extremely successful writer while her first hubby is a bit of a dreamer.  Guess what, lady?  He was like that when you met him.  He seems like a supportive and terribly loving chap, but enough’s enough and Liz wants out.  No couples therapy, no discussion, no consideration for the bonds of marriage, just see ya.  When she flirts with and traps a gorgeous young actor - one entranced enough to wash and fold her dirty skivvies and looks exactly like James Franco - she’s not happy either and would rather cry all night on the floor than actually be an adult and talk to him about what’s wrong.  Oy...  

When Liz gets to Italy, all her new friends are so charmed by her that they can’t understand why she’s not married, but being such a radiant, precious gem it’s all okay; they love her for who she is.  She seems to take not a drop of perspective or self knowledge away from India or her time with the Balinese medicine man. 

The movie makes a case that’s just not there and Liz’s misery is a vacuum premise.  There’s no reason for this attractive, rich American to not be happy, certainly not that we’re ever shown in Eat Pray Love.  In this era of turmoil and continuous bad news where people lose their jobs and their homes daily, children are starving and there’s wars in the world, I’m supposed to care that this shallow, self-absorbed, flighty woman feels a little sad? 

Liz, I could’ve saved you the airfare with one word: Prozac.

Star Julia Roberts is fairly charming with not a lot to do other than eat Italian food and be adored by a bevy of gorgeous men.  Tough work, that.  I would have liked to see more of James Franco as the younger (- and wiser) man in Liz’s life who tries so hard to please her and Billy Crudup is a bittersweet chuckle as the pathetic future-ex-hubby who doesn’t understand what went wrong.  Don’t worry Billy, neither do we.  Javier Bardem’s shaggy subtle highlights flatter his very large cranium and help him appear as romantic and appealing as he’s allowed to be despite an unimaginative script that’s neither sustainably humourous nor compelling.  Richard Jenkins is the wounded Texan hiding in the Indian temple for a decade who feels some inexplicable reason to unburden himself and his whole sorry saga to Liz.  This is mystifying because there’s only one instance where Liz ever does anything genuinely compassionate for anyone else in the entire screenplay and even that turned my eye to the side considering the amount of dosh she’d spent on herself. There’s also a regrettably limited use of the brilliant Viola Davis as Liz’s friend and agent, who like the rest of the audience has no clue what Liz’s problem is and has no trouble informing her so.  I suspect that had Ms. Davis's character remained onscreen any longer, the picture might have been much shorter. 

Regardless of its marquee names, the real star of Eat Pray Love is its gorgeous camerawork and locations.  Cinematographer Robert Richardson captures Italy in all its textured, musky sensuality.  We don’t see as much of India as I would have liked through Richardson’s lens, but Bali should expect a ton of visitors with the luscious green hillsides and nighttime bacchanals shown here.  Truly, the visuals were the only real moments of interest for the entire venture; otherwise at nearly two and a half hours, Eat Pray Love is an endurance test that would be a dealbreaker for any date night movie.

Eat Pray Love is a failed feminist declaration that few women in the audience could ever relate to.  If what we were seeing was true equality between the sexes; would we be expected to cheer if Liz’s selfish actions were undertaken by a man?  Flouncing out of a marriage for no apparent reason, then carrying on an affair with a young actress (In an inferior financial situation, as was the husband.) before the divorce to the crying, traumatised ex-spouse is even signed; then screwing with the new lover’s life only to blithely fly off to eat his way across Italy and play at enlightenment in India until Ms. Right pursues him in Bali?  No we wouldn’t.  We’d be throwing shoes at the screen and hissing what a cad this guy was.  Why should the reaction be different when portrayed by Julia Roberts’ debatable charms? 

If this is what passes for female empowerment these days, leave me out of it.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Aug 12th, 2010

 

 

 

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(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)

 

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