‘Eat Pray Love’ and then look for another movie

Posted: August 12, 2010

"Eat Pray Love" will be an intense spiritual experience for many who see it - they will end up on their knees, praying for its merciful end.

After eating their $8 investment.

As for love, ladies, do your marriages a favor and leave your husbands out of it (or drop them off at "The Expendables").

"Eat Pray Love" is adapted from the bestseller that in book form lay abandoned on our nightstand for many months.

My wife could not finish it, although she is usually eager to read whatever narrative of growth/healing/inspiration Oprah endorses (almost as if living with me is not sufficiently inspirational).

Once she put it down, she could not pick it up, nor could she refute my cursory impression of the Liz Gilbert memoir as an epic feat of narcissism - a woman fixating endlessly on relationship problems while lolling about in Italy, India and Bali.

In movie form, "Eat Pray Love" morphs into a transparent Hollywood star vehicle (for Julia Roberts), and so doubles-down on the self-indulgent vibe.

Gilbert travels the world trying to recover from a divorce and a failed rebound relationship, and when she finally finds balance (the state of mind, not the margarine) she is loath to commence another relationship with a handsome, charming stranger.

The men who fill these slots are, in order, Billy Crudup, James Franco and Javier Bardem, making Gilbert/Roberts the least-deprived lovelorn female in the history of movies, one who exchanges gorgeous men and movie fantasy archetypes (coupled, cougar, kept) with enviable ease.

And while she's ruminating (endlessly) on the sometimes invisible flaws in these relationships, she's touring romantic Rome, exotic India, and picturesque Bali, where she stays among the yellow hibiscus in an open-air bamboo cottage where the drapes are gently stirred by tropical breezes, and sometimes by Bardem, who pokes his head in to ask if she wants coffee. Or tea. Or him.

I wonder if her life will have any resonance at all with her fellow Americans, who generally find food and fulfillment at Costco. "Eat Pray Love" plays like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of a woman's movie - Kristen Wiig would get huge laughs in Roberts' place as a wifty wanderer who dismissively sorts through spectacular suitors.

Except that "Eat Pray Love" is rarely funny and endlessly dull, as you'd almost expect from a movie culled from interior monologue, with wall-to-wall narration in the place of action or story.

And still, much is unexplained. Gilbert listens to an Italian man lecture her on the perverse industriousness of Americans, and nods in agreement. But Gilbert herself is the opposite of this. She floats aimlessly about on a mysterious subsidy, free to contemplate her navel while sightseeing at the Coliseum or on a Balinese beach, where young Aussie hunks strip for her.

I don't know if any actress is right for this part, but Roberts is wrong for it. She has, of late, looked alarmingly thin, and while in Italy, the purported eating stage, she fails to convince us she's fallen in love with food.

One farcical scene has her extolling the virtues of Napolitan pizza - she pledges to eat an entire pie, and to stop on the way home to buy some fat jeans.

I think she balloons to a size 2.

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