August 26, 2010

Eat Carbs, Pray in Sanskrit, Love Strange Men

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Eat, Pray, Love is the epitome of a sappy, narcissistic self-help chick flick, and if you want to watch it for anything besides spiritual healing or laid-back popcorn entertainment you will probably be very disappointed. You have been forewarned.Based on a popular 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love follows the true story of Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts), a 34-year old woman who had everything — a house, a husband, a job — and suddenly realizes that she’s extremely unhappy with her marriage and needs to gain back her appetite for life, desperately needing to “marvel at something.” She divorces her husband, dabbles in a brief but meaningful fling with a broke off-Broadway actor named David (James Franco) and decides to put her life on hold for a year and travel to Italy, India and Indonesia to look for something to save her life.“Soul searching” is an understatement. After years of New York City salad lunches, she embarks on a cheesy (no pun intended) no-carb-left-behind experiment in Italy, practices the arts of il dolce far niente (“the joy of doing nothing”) and learns to let go and love her muffin top. In India, she prays at one of the world’s most respected Ashrams, submerging herself in the ancient and foreign Sanskrit language and seeking a spiritual understanding of the universe.Finally, in Indonesia, she falls in love through pure serendipity. Along her journey, the tall, blonde, thin and beautiful Liz is surrounded by attractive men, but it is only after she achieved “the Balance” with nature that she successfully meets a fellow divorcee who nearly kills her in a car accident at first encounter but proves to be the perfect mozzarella to her marinara sauce, and they live happily ever after.Eat, Pray, Love is one of those rare films that are strangely more enjoyable than the book. On my overnight flight to Cornell for my freshman orientation three years ago, I picked up Eat, Pray, Love at a Hudson News in LAX. As I flew towards the east coast, I found myself getting more and more irritated. How could someone just wake up one morning and decide she doesn’t want to be married anymore when nothing is obviously wrong? Taking a gap year is something people do after they graduate high school, not when they are 34 and married with a job. 34 is also way too young to have a mid-life crisis. I didn’t understand.Three years of college later, I still don’t, but seeing the film made me understand how that book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 150 weeks. About half an hour into the movie, the heroine, Liz, stands at the checkout stand of a bookstore with a pile of endearing self-help books. She gave the cashier a vacant don’t-judge-me-just-do-your-job look, and the 80% female audience burst into laughter. That was when I understood why the middle-aged divorcee next to me was bawling during the entire second half of the movie while my friend spent it texting and trying not to fall asleep: We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable. Yet, there are some struggles that cannot be expressed sufficiently through words and can only be resolved with freshly made pizza and prayers in an intelligible foreign tongue. On the big screen, her story suddenly became unbelievably human: Her sorrows became more tangible, her divorce became more violent and her post-divorce New York City lover actually seemed like someone who deserves pity. Maybe it’s because her writing was so overwhelmingly whiny and self-indulgent, maybe it’s because the lead actress is Julia Roberts, and many female movie goers my age and older are conditioned to feel somewhat compelled when her face is on the silver screen.

The role of Liz is not an easy one to play, and the acting certainly made the film version more genuine than the book. A woman waking up randomly in the middle of the night to a self-induced panic attack and deciding to pray in tremors and talk to herself can be very awkward if done improperly, but Roberts’ nuanced, tender and controlled performance made it moving and simmering with emotions. Franco’s portrayal of Liz’s complicated love interest was also fairly memorable. The stunning scenery in Italy, India and Indonesia is romantic enough on its own. For what it’s intended for, the film was well done, but there’s not much more besides that.

3 Towers

Original Author: Lucy Li