But let’s face it, Elizabeth Gilbert‘s bestseller needs no introduction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’re familiar with the plot line. Even folks who never read it know the gist of the story.
Let the record show that the book spoke to me — to use a term I really can’t stand — pretty early on in the piece. (Sleepless nights, sobbing uncontrollably on the bathroom floor, feeling horribly stuck, ring a bell?) And so I bought in early and went along for the ride.
And then I promptly tossed the tome to my friends — or at least the ones I thought might find something in those pages they could relate to, whether it was the miserable marriage, itch to reinvent, spiritual searching, travel lust, food obsession, ache to find a soul mate in an exotic locale, or desire to take a holiday from yourself and your life as you know it.
There were points in the text where I could sense the movie script that would inevitably emerge, not surprising, since Gilbert had already had success in this arena, with a flick popular among pre-pubescent girls (or at least my nieces) with the hideous title Coyote Ugly.
And I appreciate that for many the constant navel gazing, as my film reviewing buddy Jane Boursaw notes, got old. But what of the fear, pain, and difficulty extricating yourself from an unhappy long-term relationship without hurting yourself or those you love? That bit I understood in spades. The stuff about shacking up with an up-and-coming actor the minute you leave your marriage, chucking it all in and heading off to Italy, India, and Indonesia with a six-figure magazine assignment advance, finding love in the beautiful waters around Bali: Not so much.
Three years ago, when I left my marriage, moved out of the family home, and lost my job — all in short order and none of it inspired by dear Liz — a writer friend from the East Coast encouraged me to hole up in a cafe and pen the West Coast version of Eat, Pray, Love.
Not bloody likely. There were bills to pay. Work to find. Stress-induced health stuff to address (so long insomnia).
And, most importantly, one very traumatized and angry child–whose world got turned upside down through no fault of his own–to comfort. Still too raw to go there, so I won’t.
To paraphrase Eat, Pray, Love the movie, which I saw last night: Nothing lasts. True, of course, though it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the middle of misery. Three years later my son is a happy, thriving, well-adjusted kid heading off to middle school in a couple of weeks and on his way to becoming a teenager. Nothing lasts indeed.
That brings me to my biggest beef with all these tales of women, many spawned by the success of this book, who follow their hearts and love of food and run off to Europe mostly, though Asia is becoming popular, to go find themselves. Many of them, I’d wager most of them, don’t have kids in the mix.
Haven’t we been here before? Oh, yeah, Julia Child, Julie Powell, Julie & Julia. Know what I’m saying?
To paraphrase E,P,L again: “Having a child is like getting a giant tattoo stamped on your face.” I guess that’s one way of looking at it. I might gently suggest that raising a child means you don’t have the luxury or license to run off and abandon your responsibilities so you can do whatever the hell you want. Agreed?
Here’s the thing, though, since I’m a writer by profession, I know Gilbert’s book is an expression of her public persona. There’s honesty in those pages, for sure, but we really don’t reveal our full, true selves for the world to see. Anyone who reads my blog and thinks they know what is going on in my life, um, sorry, not really, just the bits I choose to share.
That’s why I’m surprised by the backlash to both the movie and the book — have you seen some of the snarky stuff folks have been writing? Some of it from people who have never even scanned the book’s pages. Perhaps it’s an example of Tall Poppy syndrome. Regardless, the attacks sometimes feel quite mean-spirited and personal.
The cult following the book has birthed does make me uncomfortable. Hero worship only leads to disappointment in my experience. Not that the author planned it that way or likely gives a hoot; she’s happily encamped in rural New Jersey with her beau from Bali. She’s writing a novel and he’s busy selling Buddha’s imported from Asia in the couples curio store.
I think it’s ridiculous to put Gilbert on a self-discovery pedestal in the same way that I think it’s silly when food scribes worship at the altar of Ruth Reichl. She’s a great writer (her tweets often resemble haiku), a food visionary, and an inspiring speaker. I get that. But she’s a person, people, flaws and all. I mean — going out on a limb here but hell, Gourmet‘s gone, and the gal’s never going to hire me anyway — did you read Garlic and Sapphires? Didn’t that strike anyone as a tad self indulgent and smug? Just asking.
But you want to know about the movie don’t you? It’s disappointing, of course, in the way that movie adaptations of books always are. That bathroom scene? Bugged me. Nothing like what I imagined when reading Gilbert’s words. The food focus in Italy? Too stylized, too perfectly plated, too sterile. That scene about Julia R’s muffin top and squeezing into “big girl” jeans. Spare me.
In fairness, there are lots of languid shots showcasing the locales Julia Roberts, I mean “Liz” visits, the acting is strong (Billy Crudup as the ex, Richard Jenkins as her spiritual pal from Texas, Javier Bardem as her new Brazillian love Felipe, not his real name in real life, but you know who I mean.) Roberts does do crushing loneliness well. Bardem has those puppy dog eyes. I detected a few Aussie accents, possibly one or two real ones. It’s not all bad.
Did I mention the music? So overdone I wanted to run screaming from my seat. Overdone — that’s how I felt about the film, really, which feels too long, especially since there aren’t any surprises.
I still haven’t seen Tilda Swinton’s icy turn in I Am Love, which Anthony Lane of The New Yorker labeled thus:”The best sex you will get all year, if that’s what you crave in your movie-going, is between Tilda Swinton and a prawn.” Molly Wizenberg has been swooning over this film on Twitter ever since she left the cinema (two times and counting).
Maybe that film will feed me in a way Eat, Pray, Love failed to do. I left the theater feeling hungry, for what, I’m not exactly sure. But Gilbert’s journey to the screen didn’t satiate me.
Friends, I know you have opinions on this one — along the “loved it/hated it” lines. Do tell.
[Film Photos: Courtesy of Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures]