Were this movie not visually unappealing and painfully boring, I still could not have liked it even a little bit because my deeply-held Christian beliefs were offended at almost every moment. A marriage breaks up over boredom and unshared dreams, a woman feels her validity is in whether she is loved by herself or by a man, she seeks peace in Hinduism and concludes that “God is in you As You.” There is the old First Lie: “You can be as gods…” which never did anyone any good. Ask Adam.
Religious concerns aside (of course they never can be set aside, and I would go so far as to say that Christians should not watch this film at all), there are other concerns which might make this film unwatchable. It is not beautiful. Rome looks ugly. India looks worse, and even Bali (how did they do this?) is uninviting. The close-ups of Ms. Roberts eating spaghetti: sucking it up, chewing off the little bits—caused my husband to say, “Ew, gross,” which if your husband says this while looking at Julia Roberts, something must be wrong. In discussing the casting of Ms. Roberts afterwards, we decided that although a younger woman might have been more attractive in the part, no one but a huge star like Ms. Roberts could have made this movie viable commercially. She looks increasingly disheveled through the movie, which is to be expected. Who can look good when away from home for a whole year?
The film begins at a party where a baby is handed off to Liz’s (Julia’s character) husband. The husband holds the baby out at arm’s length. This later seems odd when we learn that the husband is the one who wants children while Liz wants to travel. In a feat of strength not matched even in The Expendables, husband manages to hold the infant at arm’s length for so long that the baby falls asleep. I am not sure this is possible. That night, Liz prays to God for the first time, weeping for wisdom. God tells her to leave her husband. Deaf to hubby’s pleas that she stay (“I’m in love with you!” and “I choose you!”), she files for divorce. In a touching scene, the elevator closes between them while he hold his hand up to wave a last goodbye. He is still wearing his wedding ring. She doesn’t say sorry. She doesn’t say anything. When she later confesses that she wants his forgiveness, we wonder why she doesn’t call him up and ask for it.
Immediately upon leaving her husband, she dives (her word) into an affair with a man who has the lead role in a play she has written. No happy times are shown, but suddenly we see them as people who always fight and simply don’t get along. She cries. He says, “You should stay because it’s easier to live with someone you don’t get along with than to break up.” She doesn’t agree. She decides to go away for a year to eat in Rome, pray in Calcutta, and love in Bali.
Rome: we see one-lane streets, ancient buildings, and a sweet landlady who tells her not to mind the scaffolding because it holds up the ceiling. The landlady informs us in Italian (with subtitles) that a little water in the tub will wash all the parts that need to be washed, and that American girls only come to Italy for the food and the sex. We see several adults in their 30s who have nothing better to do than to eat spaghetti. There are shots of food, just food, and here’s something completely incredible: although I am a serious foodie, and although I was very hungry, the food shots didn’t appeal to me at all. It just didn’t look all that good. Maybe she should have gone to Paris for the Food part.
Liz falls in with a girl from Norway who is in Rome for I-don’t-remember-why but can hurl a coffee order over the heads of Italian men all yelling at the same time. The girl is having an affair with her Italian language teacher. Liz and the girl go out for pizza. Liz tells her to eat the whole pie because, “Men don’t care if you have a muffin top; they will sleep with you whether you are fat or not.” This fascinating revelation inspires the friend to eat a whole pizza. (A stick-thin Norwegian blonde thinks men won’t sleep with her if she has five extra pounds? What? A discussion of this idea alone would take pages.) They decide to buy “fat pants” when they finish eating. Except they don’t–they stuff themselves into very little pants. In what is likely the Junior High moment of the whole movie, one lies down on the floor (presumably sucking in her fat gut) while the other attempts to zip up the “fat” jeans.
They have a Thanksgiving dinner in a dimly-lit house in Rome at which an overweight man who may or may not have another purpose in the movie forgets to thaw the turkey. They have it for breakfast. They also thank God for their blessings. Mr. Language Teacher thanks God for giving him a lovely Norwegian girl to have an adulterous affair with. Liz declares herself to be the luckiest woman in the world–no one can tell why.
This round-the-table scene reminded me of another Julia Roberts round-the-table scene. In Notting Hill, this scene is done better and much, much sweeter.
The India of Eat Pray Love is dirty. The ashram she lives in for four months is dark and sad. A sad 17-year-old girl is married against her will to a boy she thinks is repulsive. Liz tells the girl she has “dedicated her meditating to her” with hopes of happiness. An unattractive older man calls Liz “Groceries” and gives her a lot of advice. He is crass and unloveable. Memoirs should be more seriously edited when turned into film (note Julie/Julia as an example). We learn that an elephant has escaped it bonds and is roaming the streets. It appears and is docile. Liz pets it. Why?
In Bali, Liz visits Ketut, an old man who dispenses advice and tells the future. On an earlier visit he had told her she would lose all her money in the next “6 to 10 months.” However, she doesn’t. She has enough money to live for a year traveling all over the world. She is a writer, of course, but we never see her write anything but emails.
By the time Liz got to Bali, I asked my husband if he was in physical pain. He said “not yet,” but I could see the glassiness, the desire to bolt from this boring, boring, boring movie. Liz gets hit by a car driven by a smolderingly-dark Brazilian man of the right age with a week’s worth of beard who kisses his 19-year-old son on the lips and calls all children and pets “darling.” He is also very rich. He is still heartbroken over his divorce, but his son (now resigned to the kissing) takes one look at Liz and tells Dad, “Go ahead; it’s time.” Of course we knew the moment we saw this man (before he collides with her) that he is The One. Liz has a torrid love affair with him, then decides she can’t commit to him because then she would lose her “balance,” so painstakingly learned. Ketut assures her that “sometimes you have to lose your balance to be balanced.” Oh! That’s the ticket. Liz flings herself on the Brazilian-in-Bali and the credits roll.
Sadly, the movie ends with Liz in the same place she began. She has to be told by a man who is either 101 or 64 (he can’t remember) to go ahead and have her affair. She has yet to go home to New York to make peace with the people in her life, although she did write to them all and ask for enough money to buy a woman a house. They sent $18,000. Brian wouldn’t stay for the credits, so we left. I have never known him to refuse to sit for the credits before. Ever. I owed him one big-time for being one of only 2 men (among over 1oo women) who stayed til the end (a third man left half-way through). We went home to check on the kids and then immediately went out to see The Expendables. Two movies in one day: unheard of, but we had to get this one out of our minds.