Saturday, September 25, 2010

I saw, I pondered, I liked…okay

For some reason, I was really keen to see Eat, Pray, Love. Partly, it was the idea of tapping into my American cheesiness (Pasta! Romance! Julia Roberts!), and indulging my American habits (Sneaking snacks into the movie theater – yay! I never even go to the movies any more. I love going to the movies!).

Partly it was because I read the book early on and really loved it. Even though now that it’s been translated into a gazillion languages and Elizabeth Gilbert has become a hero to some and a villain to others, it’s sort of embarrassing to admit that I read this “spiritual” “chick-lit” book. But suck it, I did love it.

And partly it’s that I am playing the role of Liz Gilbert a little bit myself these days. I’m a single thirtysomething-year old woman experiencing life abroad. I find myself in dueling moments of immense joy and awe and deep self-pity and loneliness. One of my favorite things is eating. The other is traveling. I give thanks for my experiences, out loud and to my “gods”, and through it all, I am seeking meaning and love (and the best Italian joints in Paris).

So, oui, I was looking forward to the French release, and I was thrilled that Mel agreed to be my date. We snuck in beers and had Kleenex at the ready (cheesy Americans). The theater was, as expected, full, but it didn’t have the chittering excitement as when we went to see Sex and the City. And when we left??

Hmmm. Even less chittering. We weren’t really moved. There wasn’t a “feeling” in the air.

As expected, Eat Pray Love was created as a giant Hollywood blockbuster. We’re made to believe that fabulous homes and lifestyles are affordable. That women bond best in the fitting room, trying on jeans. That eyes do lock across crowded dancefloors, leading to trysts on the beach.

And of course that is what I wanted, to some extent. To be entertained and lost in someone else’s magical, anything-is-possible world. But more important, I wanted to believe. And that’s where the movie failed.

The book is laden with universal truths, which is why it was such a phenomenal best-seller. Self-discovery is a wonderful journey, even if it’s in your own backyard, and not the far-flung beautiful beaches of Bali. But the movie focused on these backdrops—and the Julia Roberts close-ups, and the men—more than the internal epiphanies.

Liz Gilbert went through some pretty dark moments and many beautiful experiences. She struggled and reflected and came out a stronger person, more true to her real self than when she was in an unfulfilling marriage. But Julia Roberts’s quivering lips and crocodile tears, and the panoramic shots of Roman ruins and Balinese rice fields, seemed to sell the feeling and meaning of these moments short.

In the end, it was pretty much what I was expecting. There were many annoying glossy Hollywood scenes, constructed to make us drool and sigh (but which just made me roll my eyes). But it also had a few truly beautiful moments, where it's possible to recognize our own feelings of alienation and inadequacy, our own hopes and quest for a more meaningful life, and our own glee when a plate of pasta is placed in front of us.


  1. Wow. You never cease to amaze and impress me. Intelligent,insightful,well articulated review. You're a deeply perceptive person and a hell of a writer Ms. Thomas.

    ps: and a graceful friend, not one word about me hogging the dried apples. :)

  2. We saw this last week and we were ( I was ) SO disappointed and annoyed!
    Annoyed because I had this idea that the film would be what all the hype made it out to be, that once again a book that was pretty good, turned into a silly chick flick and that they wasted so much.
    Julia Roberts was wasted as was Bardem.
    But the locations/scenery was totally wasted !
    THAT was Italy? back alleys and fake interiors?
    THAT was India ? a typical (done in every film) taxi ride to an ashram .. what a waste of location.
    THAT was Bali? well, at least there was a bit more of Bali but still.. it was a waste of talent, locations and my time.

    This review is brought to you by a coffee fueled easily annoyed ex-pat :)

  3. Merci, Mel. You ain't so bad yourself. :)

    Candice, I hear you. I kept thinking how different the movie could have been, directed by a smaller or foreign director - done with a little more subtlety and grace. But I still enjoyed it, I must confess. (Of course I could blame that on the deprivation of American smut and abundance of French aloofness!)

  4. I just returned from six magical days in Paris-my first trip to this beautiful, clean and friendly city. After touring the city on foot, luckily in ugly American tennis shoes which saved my feet, I feel that a cultural and gastronomic void has been filled. With your guidance Amy, I believe that I experienced the best that Paris has to offer. My highlights were; touring the Opera Garnier, seeing the Winged Victory of Somathrace, sipping wine while overlooking the city on the 7th floor of Les Galeries La Fayette and celebrating our last night dining at La Regalade. Mogie

  5. Amy, Do you have many television channels in English?
    We get tons of American smut , I mean, series (Dexter, Nurse Jackie etc) so I am not lacking that .. I would love love love to get some French movies or Italian films, subtitled in English, but this is not going to happen here. My Español will never be sufficient ( fast enough) to read the subtitles. whine whine.

    How lovely to read the post from Anonymous.. to look back on a first trip to Paris and be fulfilled. Great !

  6. I read and really enjoyed the book. That's why I have no desire to see the film. It's almost like Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. I loved the book and actually really liked the movie...but if I were to compare the two, I'd have to hate the movie because it leaves out so much. Maybe after a while I'll see the movie, but "forget" that it's supposed to be the book.

  7. I succumbed and saw this yesterday! My favorite setting was Italy -- though it was a total fantasy. I've never seen so few cars in Rome, and apparently spaghetti carbonara now has tomato sauce. Loved reading your thoughts on the film!

  8. expectations are everything
    I expected to fall asleep
    Instead I was swept away
    I've ridden in that taxi in Delhi
    I've walked those alleys in Rome
    I'd love to see Bali!
    LOVED the Brazilian music
    LOVED Bardem
    Roberts is better on a bike than I am so...
    the book is another animal..
    I love GLEE too so I'm no judge :)

  9. Director Murphy says:
    I just loved the idea of what the book said to me: "Get out of your way and shut up... and if you're unhappy, do something about it. It's never too late to try to be happy."

  10. Carol, Glee is genius!! No shame in loving that one...
    And I like Murphy's quote: "It's never too late to try to be happy." I just wanted to hear and see that more, I guess.