Friday, August 13, 2010

Movies: Eat Pray Love



Eat Pray Love, directed by Ryan Murphy, starring Julia Roberts, based on the book of the same title by Elizabeth Gilbert, is a light but exceptionally entertaining take on a woman's search for meaning.  While it reflects the struggle of a woman to find herself as a human being outside of the context of her unhappy marriage and the expectations that have shaped her so far, at the same time, there is no mistaking that it is a summer film, filled with wonderfully photographed, romantic locales, amusing and warm characters, and the pleasures and pitfallas that can come from living life on your on terms. Perhaps it strives to be a sort of of existential adventure film, escaping the complexities of complicated personal life life in 21st century America, by running free in Italy, India and Indonesia.

The story has taken some hits recently. Feminist literary magazine Bitch, in an article entitled  Eat Pray Spend, criticized the true story of the book as priv-lit,  an existential crisis that is too informed by materialistic fears masking as a search for meaning: To quote just one excerpt: If more women become willing to put aside their fears, open their eyes to cost-free or inexpensive paths to wellness, and position themselves as essentially worthy instead of deeply flawed, priv-lit could soon migrate to a well-deserved new home: the fiction section. 


Gilbert, played by Jula Roberts, does extricate herself from a failing marriage and a messy divorce by first heading to Rome and Napoli (a lovely travelogue, featuring a da michele l'antica pizzeria, circa 1870, that we visited on a trip to Naples last year that leaves even the legendary Brooklyn pizzarias in the dust). This section is a sensual obsession, with delicious Roman cuisines  (the fried artichokes looked scrumptious) and a joyful engagement with language, humor, and warm social contact. Moving further east, India and her visit to an asharam provide an opportunity to begin to search within herself. Here too she meets Richard, the American expat, played by Richard Jenkins, another seeker who, through his own complex bio, is able to finally hold up a mirror to Gilbert, as she first begins to try to see herself and where she is running from and running to.   The last section, Bali, where she meets Felipe, Javier Bardem in another warm and delightful role , as a Brasilian businessman, escaping his own failed marriage by hiding out in Bali, allows the seeker to begin to open up to the possibilities of new relationships, and how romantic love is not the only kind of love in the world.


Perhaps it is ironic (isn't everything these days?) that of  the two big late summer movies, Eat Pray Love  features Julia Roberts as the hero/anti-hero, while The Expendibles features Eric Roberts, Julia's brother man, as the summer villain. 


There are so many terrific performances in this movie:  Viola Davis as the author's best friend, James Franco as a young actor, Billy Crudup as her husband, Richard Jenkins as the Ashram expat, but also Christine Hakim as Wayan the healer, many scenes stolen by Hadi Subiyanto as the Balinese shaman, Giuseppi Gandi as Spaghtetti, and Welker White as her attorney. 


This is not Last Year at Marienbad or L'Aventura. It is a story of a struggle told gently, in warm climes and amid warm people. The film does not ignore the poverty and struggles of the world that she passes through, but neither does it wrestle with the questions of -- as I believe philosopher-mytic George   Gurdjieff referred to it, the material question." This is a story told always in motion and always on the move.  It feels like less a dark night of the soul, than a tale of a woman who wakes up in interesting and beautiful places but can't understand why she is still unhappy. Ultimately, like in Groundhog Day, another existential story come to think of it, her life begins to take new form and provide new possibilities when she begins to take risks that touch the lives of others.  While this may seem a tad superficial and facile, here, it all works.  We struggle and if we are lucky, we also think and reflect. I loved the travel aspects of this film,the ideas of making new friends in exotic places. But the real reason that it all comes together into such a satisfying film is that the questions that are raised here, despite any political backlash, are all eternal questions. And in this case the seeker is a brave human being who just keeps trying everything, including the courage to move toward nothingness,  until she finally gets something right. This is a warm, complicated and colorful story, and director Ryan Murphy has translated the book to film in a gentle and less fractious way, but still has caught it all perfectly.


Brooklyn note: Bookstore scenes filmed at BookCourt.

1 comment:

  1. Saw film last night. Roberts is amazing as usual! It is great drama film of 133 minute. All credits goes to Ryan Murphy . He has done good work. Cheers Ryan !

    ReplyDelete

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