DVD Release Date:  November 23, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  August 13, 2010
Rating:  PG-13 (for brief strong language, sexual references and male rear nudity)
Genre:  Comedy-Drama, Adaptation
Run Time:  133 min.
Director:  Ryan Murphy
Cast:  Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem

The emotional voids of wealthy white Americans who can afford to take a year off from life and see the world evoke no sympathy from me.  Suffice it to say, Eat Pray Love is a complete crock.

For the uninitiated, Eat Pray Love is based on Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir of the same name that went on to push over 6 million copies in the States and has been translated into over 40 languages.  In it, Gilbert recounts her yearlong journey of self-discovery that began with leaving her posh life behind and husband for good.

As depicted here, Gilbert's international quest to find balance involves good eating, occasional loving, little praying, and mostly moping.  How one can travel the world and only obsess about what she's missing is beyond me (especially in such a lush travelogue as this).  That we are to be moved by it—even enlightened!—is absurd; that the memoir on which it's based (and is reverent to) has become a phenomenon is downright disturbing.

The core problem here isn't even its philosophy (as vapid as it is) but rather its subject.  Liz Gilbert is a wholly unsympathetic character from the start.  She bemoans being empty and lost, joyless and trapped. What is the cross she must bear?  That of a successful writing career and loving, supportive husband.  Oh, the horror. 

Trouble really sets in when her handsome spouse (Billy Crudup, Watchmen) is moved by the plight of our school system and is inspired to advance his own education to do something about it.  Who would want to be married to such a beast?  Clearly not Liz, whose distressed response to his new purpose tells us that this is not what she signed up for.  His selflessness is totally cramping her selfishness.  She has less depth than Bravo's real housewives.

Consequently, the casting of Julia Roberts in the lead role isn't so much a casting coup as an insult to our intelligence.  One flash of her toothy smile or the boom of that hearty laugh and instantly we're supposed to transfer our sentiments for America's Sweetheart onto a character that is a complete and utter flake.  Not even Julia's inestimable charms can suppress the desire to yell, "Get over yourself!"

In this whitewashed reality, however, even as Liz's friends rightly question her choices and emotional state they only do so with a supportive wink-and-a-smile. Guilt-free (nay, even empowered!) Liz leaves her husband, beds a young boy-toy, gallivants across the globe in search of herself, and can even "let herself go" by indulging in Italian food while still keeping her cover-girl figure (ignore the moment where Julia can't fit into a pair of jeans; talk about a farce!).

And who can blame her?  Six months prior, after all, an adorably toothless Hindu shaman told Liz she'd embark on such a journey.  Can you really expect her to do anything less than follow the generic (self-fulfilling) prophesies of a random tan Yoda?  Did I mention he's adorable?

Not only is it impossible to empathize with the heroine, it's hard to take any of this seriously.  Despite the non-fiction pedigree, this feels and plays like utter fantasy.  Director Ryan Murphy's cutesy tone and clever one-liners may work well for his TV musical Glee, but reducing an alleged spiritual awakening to chic-flick sass, laughs, romance and sap robs the story of whatever "insight" it had to offer.  As it is, Eat Pray Love The Movie is nothing more than the big screen extension of an already-successful feel-good brand.

That broader context cannot be removed from scrutiny of the film itself.  Indeed, the only "enlightening" thing about this movie is to also acknowledge the huge cottage industry behind it.  Timed with the theatrical release is a marketing juggernaut of mammoth proportions.  You may not be able to leave your husband and see the world, but if you buy enough of EPL tie-ins, perfumes, jewelry, clothes, trinkets, baubles and whatever else, well, you can reach the same epiphany. 

Ah, nothing so nurturing as vicarious capitalism, right?  Hey, I'm all for making an honest buck; it's the hypocritical ones that rub me the wrong way.  For a movie (and book) that's core theme is the emptiness of our materialistic American lives (while every other culture has "inner peace" all figured out in their own ways, apparently), the merchandise invasion it has spawned can only be judged a fraud as it peddles the very thing it condemns—all the way to the bank!

It'd be easy to dismiss all this as just another example of the Liberal Elite's love affair with Hinduism, Buddhism, and all forms of Eastern meditation that are self-affirming, requiring nothing, if not for the coast-to-coast fascination with this philosophical claptrap.  It speaks to the desire to find "balance," I guess, which is a particular obsession of Liz's—but even the wisdom offered on that front feels improvised. 

The struggle to achieve balance, for example, also includes embracing things that cause us to lose balance, because losing balance will ultimately help us to achieve balance.  Well, so long as it's something like "love" that causes us to lose balance.  If it's commitments and responsibilities to a good spouse that would do anything to save the marriage, well then by all means run from that.  That must be one of those bad ways to lose balance in order to achieve balance.

Enduring this experience, which evolved from annoyance to exasperation, I couldn't help but think of a particularly pointed insight by C.S. Lewis:

"Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."

Eat Pray Love is the complete antithesis of that worldview.

Narcissism is not the path to self-fulfillment.  It's not "courageous" to run from your problems and reboot your privileged life (despite what those rich, sophisticated Italians might claim!).  But hey, who am I to say?  She's the one who ended up with a sexy, passionate Brazilian, not me.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  A reference is made to getting "baked."  Wine is consumed.
  • Language/Profanity:  Occasional "s" words, one use of the "f" word, and on use of God's name in vain.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Couples lay together in bed, but do not have sex (though it is implied/assumed).  References to having sex.  A few passionate kisses.  One scene with male rear nudity.
  • Violence/Other:  None.



Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com
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