Ah, what a way to enter back into the real world. After a week of watching mostly great – or at least intellectually provoking – documentaries, it’s EAT PRAY LOVE on the airplane.
Is there a worse, more insulting, 1950s-era movie for women that came out this year? Not that I had the misfortune of seeing.
I read the book a couple of years ago when I was staying with a friend and found it sitting on her bookshelf. (Like that disclaimer? I didn’t buy this self-help, love-me nonsense! And yet, I read it.)
I found the book annoying, a privileged yet dissatisfied American life filled with a general whiny malaise. Although I must admit to later loving Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity and the nature of genius.
But the movie trumped all that vague irritation with the book. The formulaic and jaw-droppingly sexist script stoked it to a white-hot annoyance on the plane. And I had no leg room so I was primed to be crabby.
The screenplay went right for the A Woman Needs a Man to Be Happy and Fulfilled storyline. Yes, yes, the Julia Roberts character leaves her husband because she’s unhappy. Yes, yes, she pulls herself out of a relationship with the smug James Franco and decides to go on this journey of self-exploration. She’s always lost herself to a man since she was a teenager but now she’s going to get to know herself. The movie is practically smirking at the idea of a woman “finding herself.” To do so, you just need to eat a lot and not care. Then you can get yourself fat jeans. And doesn’t Julia Roberts look like a stuffed sausage in those size 2s. What a heifer.
But don’t fret, movie-goer! She ends up in love. And not with just any ol’ man, no, no. With Javier Bardem, a man who does smouldering so good it should be illegal.
She goes to Italy, India and Bali to Discover Something about herself. In the book, at least, she sort of does do that. But in the film? She goes to wallow in what she doesn’t have. It’s lots of longing glances at couples in Rome, lingering close ups as other women lovingly stroke other men. Film Elizabeth is always acutely aware of what she is lacking (that would be a husband and babies). And when she’s not fixated on it, old Italian or Balinese women remind her. Where is this getting in touch with herself? Maybe a little self-reflection on the nature of personal responsibility? Or a little intellectual curiosity about the world around you that might make one realize “I have it pretty good”? For chrissakes, they don’t even show a shot of her WRITING! (Except to send a break-up email to James Franco.)
Just to drive the message totally home, in case you’re too obtuse to get it, there’s an insulting dinner toast as she and her Italian friends make a real Thanksgiving dinner. “What are you thankful for?” she asks. One woman thanks her boyfriend for “security.” And Julia Roberts thanks the men at the table for “taking care of their women.” Yes, thank you. How would I take care of myself without you? I didn’t realize the Promise-Keepers wrote this movie.
By the time Film Elizabeth gets to India and Bali, her spiritual searchings revolve around romantic love. Who will love me? Why didn’t I love my husband? And a lot of other internal anguishing. Nothing about the arranged marriage of a teenage girl she befriends in India except to imagine herself at her own wedding. Nothing about the poverty she sees all around her. When, near the end, she finally – finally! – does a good deed for a Balinese woman and her child, you’d think we’re supposed to stand up and applaud this woman’s largess. All I could think was, “Took you long enough!”
Film Elizabeth has one focus and it is all on herself, reinforced by every other character in the film telling her how splendid she is. When she jokes about the shallowness of going to see a Balinese medicine man to ask him about her love life, we’re supposed to chuckle along with her at her own vapidity.