Eat, Pray, Love: Still Hungry

by Sarah Henry on August 19, 2010 · 43 comments

in food films

Okay, it’s been four years since I read Eat, Pray, Love, the memoir of self discovery, spaghetti, spiritual healing, and hot sex, so my memory of the book may be a little sketchy.

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]

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra August 19, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I will not go see this movie I did not get through Eat the book. And, thanks for reminding me about that Tilda Swinton film. Now there’s one I really want to see!
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Where Tradition &amp Organic Choice Meet


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Pleasure, Sandy. I’m curious WHY you didn’t make it all the way through E,P,L?


Frugal Kiwi- Melanie August 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Haven’t seen it. Haven’t read it. Just not inclined.
Frugal Kiwi- Melanie´s last [type] ..DIY Clean Green Oven Cleaner


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Fair enough, Frugal Kiwi. Still wondering: Why not inclined?


Frugal Kiwi- Melanie August 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Not my sort of genre. Chick flicks in general leave me cold. Aside from the occasional costume drama, they tend to aggravate and/or bore me.
Frugal Kiwi- Melanie´s last [type] ..DIY Clean Green Oven Cleaner


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Ah, OK, got it now. Thanks for the explanatory add.


Isabelle August 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thought of the movie as I do of People magazine; a mild pleasantry, nothing revelatory, pretty pictures. I did think the meditation scene where the one minute elapses as an eternity (while she “decorates” her new yoga room in her mind) was hilarious but that’s because of my selective attention deficit ;) so basically non-plussed about the movie but love you and love the post!


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I knew I could count on you, Isabelle, for a smart approach to viewing this film.

And I can just see you having a good laugh at Julia/Liz’s distracted meditations. I find “calming the mind” a massive challenge at the best of times myself. If there was a written translation attached to the loop in my brain that people could see they’d think I was an overly-emotional hamster on speed, the way I flit from one thought to the next and back again in crazy-making fashion.

As for the love — back at you, sweets — and lovely to find you here.


MyKidsEatSquid August 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Sarah, your experiences sound so difficult–I’m glad your son is doing well. As far as EPL, I’ve wondered too how kids fit into that mix. There’s just something too neat, tidy, and marketable about the whole idea behind the novel/film.


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Thanks, MKES, sweet of you to say that. But we’re all good in my neck of the woods.
It’s just life, you know, we all get dealt something or other at some stage.

I agree with you on the packaging end — it’s all a bit too neat and tidy and perfect and life, as we all know, is messier than that.


Margaret August 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm

You shoulda had ice cream instead … ;-)


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Make mine a gelato! As one editor wrote: “Julia Roberts downs a lot of carbs and has an epiphany. There, we’ve saved you twelve bucks.”

So the next lunch — or ice cream — is on you!


Alisa Bowman August 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm

It’s weird because I fall completely in the middle with my opinions on this. I read the book. I loved aspects of it—her voice, what she did with words, and the Italy section in general. The book, tho, did not change my life or move me in a big way. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have given it a 7. It was good. But it wasn’t Atonement, To Kill a Mocking Bird or a Thousand Splendid Suns.

That said, I’ve never really understood the backlash, either. It’s an honest story. It’s humorous. It’s written well, and she really isn’t the kind of privileged person that should get people’s panties in a twist. Gilbert has earned her recognition. She’s paid her dues. She did not get where she got because of who her Daddy knew or because of who her roommate was in college.

More important, the woman is probably brilliant. She’s quite possibly a better speaker than she is a writer. There’s a hell of a lot to admire there.

So I think the backlash is mostly about jealousy: why can’t I get a publishing house to let me travel around the country for a year?! That sort of thing.

I won’t see the movie though. I just can’t. This is a book that would be impossible for any movie to capture and I just can’t sit through watching a bad attempt of it. Just like I will not watch Life of Pi either (actually, there’s a book that I would rank as a 9.8.) I did watch the movie version of Atonement, and I was so, so so sorry that I did. What a waste of my time. Great writing is in the sound of the words. No film can ever capture that.

This very well may be the longest comment I’ve ever left on a post!
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..No- Honey- We Don’t Need to Talk


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm

It may be a long comment, Alisa, but it’s a thoughtful one. I think given all that say here, you’re doing yourself a favor by skipping this flick.

Interesting to read that Gilbert is a good speaker. I’d like to know more about that.


Sheryl August 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Oh, no. I promised my friend that I’d go with her. And now I have a feeling neither one of us will enjoy this at all. Perhaps we should just do dinner, instead?


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Or go see I Am Love and let me know what you think;)


Ruth Pennebaker August 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Definitely check out I Am Love. But be warned: It’s beautiful, but haunting and depressing. You’ll find out what happens when a woman with kids departs her marriage. Which leads to the question: Why do adulterous women always court disaster? Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and now Tilda Swinton’s character. Oh, well, guess we still have Erica Jong.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..Remember the House of Death


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Thanks for the heads up, Ruth, duly noted on all fronts!


Jennifer Margulis August 19, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I really found the movie SO disappointing, for many of the reasons you detail here. I enjoyed the book. It was funny and voice-y and real. In the movie Julia Roberts just cries all the time. As a viewer and even though I love JR, I just wasn’t engaged with her soul searching. I say don’t waste your money on this one!
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..So You Want to be on TV


Sarah Henry August 19, 2010 at 11:07 pm

She does cry a lot, doesn’t she? Except, of course, when she’s breaking out into that amazingly wide, toothy smile of hers. Neither one I could really relate to but, as I said, that sort of uncomfortable loneliness, she’s got that one down.


Lisa Rogovin August 20, 2010 at 6:55 am

Hi. Agree completely. I’ll just add one more thing that disappointed me. Her eyebrows were perfectly shaped throughout the entire journey. If you’ve been to India you know it’s a triumph to get a decent shower in, never mind making the brow arches look good.


Sarah Henry August 20, 2010 at 7:24 am

Spoken by one who knows from first-hand experience! Nice to see you here, Lisa.

So glad you raised this point. I kept thinking: Who meditates in full make up?

There was even a close up of her perfectly mascaraed (is that a word?) eyes. So much for authenticity. Where was the sweaty brow and humidity drenched hair?


Dianne Jacob August 20, 2010 at 7:44 am

Hated the book. Sorry. Obviously the timing was good for you, since you had left your marriage and lost your job. But for me, it was one of the most self-indulgent books I’d ever read. All about her on every page, no matter what happened. Ex. “I met a man. Oh, I wonder how can he help me?” (Not an exact quote, just paraphrasing.)

After watching Lewis Black’s commentary, which included the Shopping Channel’s ads for candles, soaps, and jewelry based on the movie (—eat-pray-love), I can’t wait to NOT see the movie. On the other hand, if I don’t go, I feel like I’m missing out on the dialog. So I’m torn.

I’ve already turned down working with someone who wants to do her own Eat Pray Love book and is hoping for an advance up front. Apparently editors are seeing many of these types of proposals every day.


Sarah Henry August 20, 2010 at 9:21 am

Yes, the whole Eat, Pray, Inc. industry is phenomenal — is that Gilbert’s doing or does this sort of thing become a runaway train once you sell the movie rights?

Thanks for the link, Dianne, will check it out. And you may appreciate this note from Leah Garchik’s column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

The savvy owners of a barbecue place in Bali, featured in the book, sell T-shirts with the name of their joint on the front and, in the book’s signature script on the back, “Eat, Pay, Leave.”


Melanie Haiken August 20, 2010 at 10:11 am

Great, great post and I’m loving all these comments. I was craving a dialogue about this movie. I’m with Dianne; the book really really frustrated and irritated me because it was so smug and self-indulgent. “how can he help me?” indeed? And having been through all the things dear Liz went through and then some, with TWO kids involved, I just couldn’t get behind her victimization and drama. I kept thinking: You’re clear of the dude, you don’t have kids, you have the money to travel the world; why are we supposed to feel sorry for you again? But confession here: I love Julia Roberts. Just love her. Don’t know why; her toothy smile makes me happy. So I saw the movie to enjoy a Julia Roberts chick flick with my daughter, and in that capacity it served just fine.


Sarah Henry August 20, 2010 at 10:23 am

Love your perspective Melanie: That you can loathe the book while enjoying the film. A novel take on the dialogue this story/movie has sparked.


Nancy Baggett August 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

Sorry to see Dianne J took my best lines about the book being insufferably self-indulgent. I’d have commiserated with the author a lot more if: Her husband had dumped HER. She had multiple young mouths to feed, or other crushing family burdens. She had been unemployed, had no apparent job skills to fall back on, and was plain and/or generally unremarkable. In other words, like the overwhelming share of women who confront what she had to “endure.”
Nancy Baggett´s last [type] ..Heart-Healthy Italian Garden Orzo Salad-Plus a Personal Cautionary Tale


Sarah Henry August 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Well said, Nancy, and nice to see you here.


Susan August 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Haven’t seen it yet, and despite the mixed reviews, I still want to se it. Loved the book, and yes, I agree that G & S may have been a tad self-indulgent (but then, what memoir isn’t?).


Sarah Henry August 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Good point, Susan. It took me a long time to even consider writing in the first person — goes against everything I learned in J-school and on the job (showing my age here, I know) but it’s become the style du jour, or so it seems, though I’ve been in the biz long enough to know these things circle around.

Memoir backlash in the near future, do you think?


MarthaAndMe August 25, 2010 at 10:31 am

I read the book and like you, I wasn’t as crazy about it as some people. I liked it, but I also skipped some portions or sped through others. I’ve been looking forward to the movie, but usually find most movies are nothing compared to the books, so now I don’t know if I’ll see this one or not


Julie September 1, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Hi all – very interested to read Sarah’s thoughts on this, and then the comments from the group. I read the book; didn’t love it. Her endless self-musings were a bit boring after a while; I was longing for her to just get on with it all! What does really surprise me in all the comments though, is the angle expressed in several posts here, that she could do all this because she didn’t have children; and then the subsequent evolution of that thought – that she didn’t really deserve to be so distressed at her emotional situation because she didn’t have children. I think that’s a pretty rough summation from the mothering sisterhood towards the childless (by choice or otherwise) sisterhood. I don’t believe there’s a sliding scale of distress, confusion, depression over life situations that means people with children get to feel it more deeply or worse than others. No-one could question the additional impact of a relationship breakdown or job loss when there are children involved in the mix. But every person is different, and I think everyone has an equal right to grieve a failed relationship or any other life trauma without others judging whether it’s ‘easier’ on them based on whether they have kids or not. The fact that she could deal with her grief and confusion by running away to exotic locales … well, Sarah’s right – with a child in tow that would have been a totally different story. Maybe someone should try it and then write an alternative Eat, Love, Pray from that angle!


Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Ah, Julie, I can always count on you for a thoughtful, reasoned, and completely original perspective.

And you raise a really valid point on a matter that gets up my nose too. We women can be our own worst enemies — no sliding scale re emotions or life trauma indeed! Sometimes I feel like we’re all trying to prove who’s life is more challenging, and then I wonder who’d want to win at that kind of contest anyway.

Since I “only” have one child (versus children) it sometimes feel like I’m supposed to “handle” more of life’s tribulations than another mom with two or more. As you point out, every person is different, and everyone’s response to grief, trauma, and disappointment is unique too. I’m as guilty as the next gal for sometimes getting caught in this game, which I’d really rather not play.

As for your idea of an “Eat, Pray, Love,” with kids in tow — brilliant — and I’d look forward to reading that book.


Julie September 2, 2010 at 4:47 am

Ah Sarah – I was thinking YOU should write that one!!


dsullyk September 2, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I found the book so self-indulgent that it bordered on ridiculous — woman takes long vacation on someone else’s dime (her publisher’s) during which she has plenty of time to discover herself — there was one line I loved from the film, courtesy of Richard: “choose your thoughts the way you choose your clothes.”


Sarah Henry September 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm

hi dsullyk, lovely to see you here. and thanks for the laugh line from the film, it’s a good one.


Krista September 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I wasn’t a fan of the book. My skepticism started a few pages in where she got the book deal before writing. I just have to wonder if her experiences would have been different if she hadn’t had to write about them.
Krista´s last [type] ..Food Crush- Hand Tools


Sarah Henry September 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Welcome Krista, and thanks for weighing in. Seems like a lot of folks got skeptical when they discovered a book deal was involved.


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