24 hours ago the first reviews for Eat Pray Love trickled in from sources we don’t usually reward with main page quotes. As the second wave of reviews wash ashore this morning, seems appropriate to spotlight another more important voice of support. A.O. Scott at the New York Times shows he gets the groove of the movie’s intentions right up front. Not only its own modest internal meaning. But in terms of a balanced multiplex menu, the meaning and value this type of movie brings to those who “want to go to there.”
The double standard in Hollywood may be stronger than ever. Men are free to pursue all kinds of adventures, while women are expected to pursue men. In a typical big-studio romantic comedy the heroine‚Äôs professional ambition may not always be an insurmountable obstacle to matrimony, but her true fulfillment ‚Äî not just her presumed happiness but also the completion of her identity ‚Äî will come only at the altar.
This paradigm is, of course, much older than the movies, but it can be refreshing, now and then, to see something different in the multiplex: a movie that takes seriously (or for that matter has fun with) a woman‚Äôs autonomy, her creativity, her desire for something other than a mate.
The scarcity of such stories helps explain the appeal of movies like the two ‚ÄúSex and the City‚Äù features, ‚ÄúJulie & Julia,‚Äù ‚ÄúThe Blind Side‚Äù and now ‚ÄúEat Pray Love,‚Äù a sumptuous and leisurely adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert‚Äôs best-selling memoir of post-divorce globe-trotting. Directed by Ryan Murphy, who wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Salt, the film offers an easygoing and generous blend of wish fulfillment, vicarious luxury, wry humor and spiritual uplift, with a star, Julia Roberts, who elicits both envy and empathy…
What ‚ÄúEat Pray Love‚Äù has ‚Äî what the superficial ‚ÄúSex and the City 2‚Äù notably lacked ‚Äî is a sense of authenticity. Whether you decide to like Liz, and whether you approve of her choices and the expectations she has set for herself, it is hard not to be impressed by her honesty. The same can be said for Ms. Gilbert (to distinguish between the author and narrator of the book and the character she becomes when impersonated by Ms. Roberts). And the screenwriters, copiously sprinkling the author‚Äôs supple, genial prose into dialogue and voice-over, maintain a clear sense of her major theme. As the movie meanders through beautiful locations, grazing on scenery, flowers and food, it keeps circling back to the essential tension between Liz‚Äôs longing for independence and her desire to be loved.
Now if that last paragraph makes you cringe and throw up in your mouth a little, then Eat Pray Love is not the movie for you. You’ve got The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim, or 10,000 Netflix titles to choose from instead.
As I said to Sasha last night, seems like a dozen different reviews have been saying, for a movie with lofty ambitions, “there’s no epiphany!” “no souls soaring!” “no nirvana!” What kind of fucking miracle were critics expecting? If they’re going to carp about somebody traveling to Bali to seek a little fulfillment then maybe it’s wrong to demand deep spiritual enlightenment from a journey to Screen #9. A.O. Scott echos that sentiment:
‚ÄúEat Pray Love‚Äù is unlikely to change anybody‚Äôs life or even to provoke emotions anywhere near as intense as those experienced, early and late, by its intrepid heroine. Its span may be global, but its scope is modest, and it accepts a certain superficiality as the price of useful insight. Watch. Smile. Go home and dream of Brazilians in Bali.