Oops, I meant EAT PRAY LOVE, but those words describe the utterly obnoxious yet enervating effect of this film.
I managed to avoid the book, but if it bears even the slightest resemblance to its overlong film adaptation, I was completely right to do so.
Its protagonist, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts), is a journalist suffering from, as we are constantly reminded, a “broken heart,” and seeking to cure herself. Well, from everything we see, this devastating wound was purely self-inflicted. Liz ups and leaves a husband (Billy Crudup in the most thankless role of 2010), who adores her and the perfect apartment she designed every inch of, and we are supposed to weep for her. You see, hubby just ain’t happening for her anymore, and their incompatibility, i.e., his refusal to grow up, is causing her serious, serious pain.
She then takes up with a hot young stud of an actor (James Franco), but soon realizes that she is too good for the likes of him, as well.
Liz’s horrendous problem is she’s never been alone. There are always these MEN around her! God, don’t spinsters realize how lucky they truly are?
What to do? What to do?
Vacation! (cue The Go-Gos). And not just any single exotic pit stop for her. No way: baby is taking herself to Italy (for the food), then India (for the spirituality) and, finally, gorgeous Bali (because, you know, India…)
In Rome, we see Liz stuff herself on pasta and pizza and courageously deciding to let her figure go to utter hell, thereby requiring the emergency purchase of fat girl jeans. This, of course, has to be taken on faith, as Roberts, for all her jawing about excess poundage, remains as willowy as ever. (The ever-so slightly bulky sweaters the costume designer puts her in are like the horn-rimmed spectacles on Grace Kelly that were supposed to turn her into instant plain Jane in her undeservedly Oscar-winning THE COUNTRY GIRL.)
EAT PRAY LOVE totally lost credibility for me early on with a Thanksgiving dinner scene in Rome when Liz proposes that everyone at the table state what they are thankful for. Two of the more prominently featured supporting players get to voice their bliss, at which point Liz grabs center stage and starts spouting her personal gratefulness, ending with a final toast that only has you thinking, “What about the rest of the guests sitting there?” And then, unfortunately, yet inevitably, “Selfish bitch.”
Those two words kept recurring in my mind as the film progressed, and this kind of glib oversight on the part of writer/director Ryan Murphy bespeaks not only a carelessness bordering on callousness, but an unseemly kind of star arse-licking and patronizing of the audience who supposedly only care about the above the title characters.
Having eaten her way through Rome, with nary a visit to a museum or ancient church, our Ugly Perky American jets to India, which is presented as a filthy, noisome chaos, and we are meant to thank God for the tranquil Ashram she finds there (which is about all of the country we get to see). There, she meets one of the many gurus she will suck wisdom from and, incidentally, the only white one, a Texas good ole geezer (Richard Jenkins), who promptly dubs her “Groceries” after
watching her gluttony at mealtime (not aware of the tape worm she has swallowed to keep that 24-inch waist). This nickname soon becomes as tiresome as the character himself, full of bogus Southern wisdom and what is meant to be down-home charm.
In a rare escape from the ashram, Liz attends the wedding of an uncertain young girl she has befriended and comes off as something of a drag, not participating in the dancing festivities, like that one recalcitrant guest = albeit exquisitely sari-ed – who shows up at every wedding. She manages to pull focus from her little friend when she wanders off, causing the bride to leave her reception and follow her for a quiet moment in which Liz gets to be her guru and counsel her about marriage (being such an obvious expert at it).
Liz also meditates a lot, only making you realize how enervatingly uncinematic this activity is onscreen. For all the enlightenment she receives, “Get me the fuck outta here!” seems to be foremost on her mind. It certainly is on ours, and, with relief, we hie off to Bali.
There, tropical beauty abounds, and, with it, the hint of sensual, sexy delights. But our girl just ain’t interested, even when a devastating young blonde hunk gets naked and beseeches her to join him for a moonlight swim. Roberts bares those huge trademark pearly choppers and snickers at him, “You’re SO NAKED!” and “You’re cute, but I gotta go!” and the sexual tease of this only reminded me somehow of 60-year-old Joan Crawford in I SAW WHAT YOU DID, putting off the advances of lustfully deranged John Ireland with a coquettish, finger-waving “Later…!”
Actually, Liz remains man-less in Bali for about 45 minutes, because up pops Javier Bardem as an emigre local who is, of course, instantly besotted by her when they meet cute (cue yawn) when he runs her bicycle-riding fanny off the road in his jeep. His character is fond of making pathetic-sounding mixed tapes for his loved ones and cries floods of tears after a reunion with his son. These male waterworks are witnessed by Liz, who is duly impressed, but I found this gambit employed far more wittily in Woody Allen’s HUSBANDS AND WIVES, when all Judy Davis had to do, after Mia Farrow told her about Liam Neeson’s character’s vulnerability, was peer intently at him and mutter “He weeps?”
That weeping scene was rather excruciating, if the truth be known, and I felt embarassed for Bardem having to perform it. It also struck me as strange that both he and Franco, two of the most attractive actors around today, both come off as rather weedy and juiceless, as if La Roberts’ mega-star wattage had sucked the very life out of them. (Again, Crawford used to do that too, back in the day, leaving the meat-picked cadavers of Robert Montgomery and Franchot Tone in her wake.)
In Bali, all Liz has to do is turn a corner and up pops another little brown-skinned guru, either male or female, to obsequiously serve her spiritual needs. One, an “adorably” grotesque, painfully obvious non-actor, she actually refers to as Yoda, which seems not that racistly far-off from those movie days when whites affectionately called their black servants things like “Shine.”
And OMG, this Bardem character also wants to sail into the sunset with her! Can’t this girl ever get a break? Why does everyone HAVE to fall in love with her? She cries and cries, and you’re not sure if it’s over her husband, whom she feels guilty about dumping, or James Franco, ditto, or Bardem, to whom she very well may do the same.
And, yes, we are supposed to care.
What to do? What to do?
Answer: Leave the movie theater, because, of course, after driving poor Javier crazy with teasing and indecision, all too forseeably, Selfish Bitch will naturally walk onto that sailboat, making every secretary and shopgirl of 1932 smile through her tears at such a bee-yoo-di-full ending.
Serious Point: if Roberts was truly gorgeous and sexy, you could believe at least some of this and maybe let yourself get swept up in it. For years, that smile, mane of hair and bodacious body indeed seemed invincible. However, time has marched on, and she has obviously made that sub-Faustian trade for body over face. There’s nary a hint of a muffin top on her eternally lithe body, despite all that supposed EAT (again, a sad little wish-fulfillment and insult to real women with real appetites and bodies), but those drawn cheekbones, prominent ears and huge features hanging off the absolute minimum of facial acreage now resemble a fruit bat.
Some of the old magic irrepressibly glimmers through occasionally, but mostly, Robert Richardson’s cinematography is not kind to her in the various lights of three countries. Michael Dennison seems to have outdone himself in providing her with a drab “real woman” wardrobe, as if to say “This ain’t no Sex and the City; we’re the SERIOUS chick flick.” Maybe so, but for real fun, glamour and, yes, romance, I’ll still take the much-maligned Carrie Bradshaw sequel to the belabored whining of Liz Gilbert any day.
Remember when Roberts and Meg Ryan were the big rivals for official America’s Sweetheart? Well, with too much collagen (among other things, like wacko movie choices), Ryan has fallen off the chart, while Sandra Bullock, despite so many odiferous films, has risen to the challenge. Roberts makes me think of a former holder of the title, Ginger Rogers, who, after she grew up from her original beloved, sassy American Everygirl image, never recaptured its excitement, despite forays into high sophistication and bitchy roles. Roberts is too uniquely special and limited – always somehow girlishly the same – in her way to bridge into real character roles, making me think that EAT PRAY LOVE, this ridiculous Oprah-endorsed vanity project of an epic of a chick flick, in which she displays every trick in her now oh-so familiar threadbare bag, would be a fitting swan song for her to get out while the getting’s still semi-good.