Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis,James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem
(PG-13, 133 min.)
"Ruin is the road to transformation." Elizabeth Gilbert
Julia Roberts, that coltish beauty with the 100-mega watt smile, is the perfect actress to play the lead role in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir about her yearlong spiritual quest. Ms. Roberts transforms what otherwise might be seen as self-indulgent into the stuff dreams are made of, just as she elevated prostitution to a higher plane in Pretty Woman.
Perhaps that’s too critical an assessment of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling tome, which is every bit as self critical as it is self indulgent, especially since I was persuaded to see the film before finishing the book. My husband not only loves Ms. Roberts, but he has traveled to India, where the middle half of the movie take place, and he really wanted to see it now and not next week.
The memoir is based on the true-life chronicles of Liz Gilbert, a successful New York writer who, at the age of 31, finds that the dream house, the devoted husband, and all the other eastern elite accoutrements are not enough. She is miserable and hollow. After a prolonged and painful divorce, - are there any other kind – followed by a disastrous rebound love affair with a struggling actor, she bolts to Italy to explore food and pleasure, India to devote herself to prayer and meditation, and Bali, where she hopes to find balance, but finds something else entirely that threatens to upend her all over again.
Though not mentioned in the film, Liz is not so whimsical as to pursue this adventure spontaneously without some planned financial backing in the form of a book advance chronicling her inner soul. Some may even call that a form of what Julia Roberts did for a living in Pretty Woman. In fact, some do, as critic Scott Tobias comments:
Trouble is, we're still stuck with Liz, who never passes up the chance to process her encounters into Oprah-fied nuggets of wisdom. At her worst, she's like a narcissistic tour guide who invites sightseers to marvel at the spectacular vistas and cascading waters inside her own head. Much as Eat Pray Love is about letting go, Liz's habit of imposing pop-psychological significance on every encounter suggests she's still her controlling self. She — and the movie — would have been better off letting the world speak for itself.
The Italian in me loved the glimpses of Rome (Eat) and its people, their sunny dispositions, their delicious food and philosophy, and their devotion to il dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. I especially loved it when her Roman tutors taught Liz how to speak with her hands, an Italian opera of meaning displayed in a single gesture. Those are my people, I couldn’t help but think, as I watched them laugh over their never empty glasses of wine, or gather round the kitchen for a communal dinner hosted by a somewhat serious and scolding mother who was not unlike my own grandmother or the bevy of Italian aunts who occupied the kitchens of my youth:
In the crowded kitchen, ensconced in the yeasty aroma of fresh bread, my mother and her sisters argued about the merits of basil versus oregano with the same passion some people reserved for politics. They judged their gravies, sauces, and the quality of the fresh herbs they chopped and diced with a sort of sibling jealousy usually saved for potential beaus.
While some critics complain that the scenes in the film, particularly India (Pray) or Bali (Love). do not do justice to their inherent beauty, others see them as based on stereotypes about the East. As Mia Mask observes,
Ketut, the Balinese medicine man she seeks out for wisdom and fortune-telling? You want to believe in their friendship, but his character is a caricature. At one point, she even jokingly refers to him as Yoda.
She sees Eat Pray Love as one of many movies romanticizing the "Silk Road,” where women awaken to their true passion while traveling to the Middle East, as the crew of self-indulgent, brazen neurotics from New York in Sex and the City 2 so recently did in Dubai.
I see the locations from the film, especially, those sequences filmed in India, as closer to reality. Usually we are presented with cinematic versions of big glossy travel magazines geared to entice us with a taste of paradise, when in reality, the seamier side of life is often overlooked.
When Liz’s taxi careens through several scenes of near death on the crowded and chaotic streets leading to her Indian Ashram (a place for religious retreat), my husband nodded his head in recollection of his many harrowing journeys by car in that country. “This is the real India,” he said, not just the romanticized version filled with exotic temples of color and scent.
Also not overlooked are the limited life options inflicted upon women in many of these countries. Liz meets a young girl at the ashram in India, a gentle and intelligent girl who longs to study psychology, just as her female Guru has done, but her parents marry her off at seventeen to a wealthy computer expert. And Liz’s female healer in Bali is the victim of physical abuse in her marriage, and as custom, loses all her material possessions as a result of her divorce.
Have I left out most of the men? Well let’s just say that Javier Bardem as the Brazilian Philipe, charmed me as well as Julia (Liz), wiping out the taint of his Nowhere Man villain from No Country for Old Men once and for all. Probably most memorable, though, is Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins), a barbed wire guru who does more than the official one to shake Liz out of her self-imposed misery.
Is this a chronicle based “Oprah-fied nuggets of wisdom” or the real thing? Self-indulgent patter from a borderline personality disorder freak or genuine growth and healing from a troubled soul? See it for yourself and decide.
This wasn’t the best film to see during swimsuit season. I admit to downing several glasses of red wine and a full plate of linguini with pesto sauce after seeing it. More mindful of the season is this recipe for cool and refreshing gelato:
The movie is pure chick flick and, with provocative close-ups and exquisitely detailed shots of glorious plates of fresh figs and cantaloupe, fried artichokes, skinny spaghetti and fat tagliatelle, not to mention Napoli's iconic pizza margherita and hot expresso and let's not forget rich gelato redolent with nuts and candied fruit and...did we mention the wine?
Eat Pray Love may be all about spiritual journeys and finding the person within — but once found, that person has a bib on and a fork in hand!
Julia Roberts makes the audience hungry for good gelato in the movie. This recipe utilizes Italy's other great gift to the food world — balsamic vinegar. Rita Demontis
Balsamic Black Cherry Gelato
Julia Roberts makes the audience hungry for good gelato in the movie. This recipe, courtesy of Ontariotenderfruit.com, utilizes Italy's other great gift to the food world — balsamic vinegar!
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 cups (1L) sweet black cherries, stones removed
- 2 Tbsp. excellent quality aged balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla
In a bowl, whisk together yolks with sugar until thickened and pale. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to simmer, stirring often. Whisk about 1/2 cup of milk into egg mixture and then transfer back to saucepan. Cook over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is thick enough to coat back of spoon, about 8 minutes. Strain into clean bowl. Let cool.
Puree 2 cups of cherries with juices in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir cherry puree, cherries, balsamic and vanilla into milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight and up to 1 day.
Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, freeze mixer in a large stainless steel bowl. After four hours, transfer to food processor and blend again. Freeze completely.
Makes 4 cups.
Recipe Source: torontosun.com