A clarification: I haven’t read Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I actually really want to. I’ve hated that book for years, but I’ve never actually read it, and I think I owe MYSELF more. Forget Elizabeth Gilbert, I don’t owe her anything, but I’m a precious snowflake, and if I’m going to devote so much energy to hating something, shouldn’t I cherish myself by hating it right? (Although, contrary to the general argument with which I usually agree whole-heartedly that you shouldn’t judge something until you’ve actually read/seen/whatevered it, I’ve read enough books at this point and know enough about this book in particular to be able to make what I feel are some pretty reasonable assumptions about it. Not bragging. Trust me, I wish I had never read Tuesdays with Morrie, but I did, and so here we are, and I’ll pre-judge whatever I want. I paid my dues.) So, if there are ways in which the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir differs from the book, my apologies. The main reason for this clarification is that, as you will see, almost all of my problems with this movie stem from the source material. Yes, admittedly there is an overly heavy-handed use of some kind of “ethereal glow” filter throughout the movie, and there’s also the issue of how, like, really, everyone in India is an English-speaking white American (or Australian)? But mostly my problem is with the character of Elizabeth Gilbert, and the overall thesis of Eat, Pray, Love. So, if in some ways the movie differs wildly from the book on any of these issues (although I’m kind of assuming that the biggest liberty they took was giving Julia Roberts about 300 more teeth than the real Gilbert has) then my apologies. My most sincerest apologies. Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m sure.
Now, about this fucking nightmare.
Eat, Pray, Love is about Elizabeth Gilbert, a late-30-something writer who is unhappily married. Although, the unhappiness in her marriage seems to stem from the fact that she’s just kind of a selfish asshole. Hey, an unhappy marriage is an unhappy marriage, I’m just saying that her husband loves her and they own a house and she’s got a successful career. Like, there are worse reasons to be unhappy is all I’m saying. (Although, actually, it is implied that she is unhappy with him because he hasn’t settled down yet? And wants to maybe go back to school? Which is a pretty fucking ballsy complaint from someone who is about to drop everything and spend all the Semesters at Sea. More on the husband later. I’ve got a real thing to say about that soon!) Anyway, she leaves him and immediately starts dating a 28-year-old actor (James Franco). COOL! COOL ADULT! Somehow, because it turns out dating a 28-year-old actor with a mild interest in Buddhism is not fulfilling to a grown woman, she decides not only to break up with him, but also to spend a year traveling the globe. First she goes to Italy and eats all the pizza (yum!) and buys some new jeans because she’s getting fat (LOLOL!). Then she goes to India and learns how to meditate although at first it’s really hard to meditate and for a long time you are on the edge of your seat like “will Elizabeth Gilbert ever learn how to meditate correctly NO SPOILERS” but then she does learn how to meditate because Richard Jenkins takes her up onto the roof of an ashram and tells her about the time he almost ran over his eight-year-old son but didn’t. Finally, she goes to Bali and rides her bike around and fucks Javier Bardem. SHE’S CURED! SHE CAN LOVE AGAIN! Or can she?! At one point it seems like she might not be able to love again, but no, wait, no, yeah, she can love again. HOORAY! The end.
This movie should be called BARF, BARF, BARF! OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can actually talk about it. Let’s start with this scene from early in the movie, which sets up the premise, as well as Elizabeth Gilbert’s motivations, and is basically just the movie’s thesis condensed. I’ve got some real problems with it!
So, you’re going to spend a year traveling the globe because your friend ate a salad for lunch? I would like to point out that although I now the whole “food rant” is mostly just an expression of her feeling that life has become routine and dead-end and passionless that she lives in NEW YORK CITY where some of the BEST FOOD IN THE WHOLE WORLD is available 24 HOURS A DAY. And if there is one specific style of cuisine that this city really has on lock, it is ITALIAN FOOD. Anyway, whatever. Here is my fundamental problem with this scene, which extends throughout the movie: EVERYONE WANTS THE THINGS THAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, YOU STUPID, NARCISSISTIC, SELF-ABSORBED ASSHOLE! Like, this scene actually reminds me of Gwyneth Paltrow’s very first issue of Goop in which she explained that she “likes to be in spaces that are clean and feel nice.” As if that was some special personal choice she had made after years of thinking about it. Elizabeth Gilbert is not special for having decided that she WANTS TO EAT DELICIOUS FOOD and HAVE EXCITING EXPERIENCES rather than WORK.
I’m pretty sure everyone would like that?
Which brings us to that: we should all be so lucky as to spend a year traveling the globe without having to work or have any responsibilities whatsoever. I genuinely mean that! It’s a very privileged position to be in, and anyone who is afforded that privilege should take full advantage of it. But they should also KEEP THEIR FUCKING MOUTHS SHUT. Please, by all means, go on a journey of self-exploration while the rest of us are scrounging together our rent, but don’t act like a goddamned HERO* about it. This movie, which is based on a memoir, uses the words “brave” and “courage” so loosely that those words should be removed from the dictionary because they are now meaningless. I’m sorry, but there is nothing brave about having a ton of money and deciding to be really indulgent about the way that you spend it (and also getting a book deal out of the whole thing by the end). Bravery is, like, Iraq, or whatever. Let me put it this way: BRAVERY DOES NOT HAVE TO BUY NEW JEANS BECAUSE OF HOW BRAVERY WAS SO COURAGEOUS WHEN ALL THE PIZZA WAS AROUND.
Incidentally, during the scene in which she has to buy new jeans because she had the courage to finish all the pizza, she admires a dress and her friend is like “You should buy it, Liz,” and she says “For who?” and her friend says, “Just for you.” Uh, what? I mean, I’m not invested in whether or not she buys the dress, but I’m pretty sure that the ONE THING we know for sure about Elizabeth Gilbert at this point is that SHE HAS NO PROBLEM DOING NICE THINGS EXPRESSLY FOR HERSELF.
Similarly, there is another line, when she is in India learning how to meditate, when she calls her ex-boyfriend and says “I don’t need things to be easy, I just can’t have so hard.” ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME? By a show of hands, who thinks that Elizabeth Gilbert has the hardest life out of all the lives?! (Apparently, it also needs to be pointed out that she says this while she is in India, a country in which abject poverty is unavoidable. Good work, Elizabeth Gilbert. I know it might make your meditation a little harder, but how about you OPEN YOUR FUCKING EYES.)
The dramatic stakes, of course, could never be higher than they are in Eat, Pray, Love. Will this well-to-do white woman without any responsibilities open her heart to Javier Bardem in one of the most beautiful places on Earth? I’M ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT! Near the end of the movie, right before she learns to love again, Javier Bardem explains to her that he has to live in Bali for his work but he knows that her life is in New York, and what he is proposing is that since they love each other, why don’t they try and build a life together in which they split their time between the two. Elizabeth Gilbert freaks out and runs away. Now, just to clarify: a man that she is falling in love with asks her to SPLIT HER TIME BETWEEN NEW YORK AND BALI EVERY YEAR. And this is a problem? Once again, against ALL ODDS, Elizabeth Gilbert musters all of her bravery and courage and finally decides that yes, OK, she is willing to split her time between New York and Bali with Javier Bardem. MOVE OVER 9/11 FIREFIGHTERS, THE REAL AMERICAN HERO IS HERE (for half of the year, the other half she is in Bali. It’s pretty sad).
(Her other main achievement besides opening her heart again to love Javier Bardem is that near the end of her journey she asks all of her friends to, in lieu of giving her birthday gifts this year, donate money to help build a little girl a house in Bali, which fair enough, that is very nice, but my only question is: WHAT ADULT WOMAN IS STILL GETTING BIRTHDAY GIFTS FROM FRIENDS? You are not that selfless, Elizabeth Gilbert. You should not be getting birthday gifts in the first place, you are a grown up woman!)
Just a horrible, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, narcissistic, garbage nightmare person. Don’t believe me? Watch her 19-minute TED Conference speech about being a genius and try not to kill yourself.
The worst. And that brings me to what might actually be my most hated part of the entire movie. It’s only two seconds long, blink and you might miss it! Lucky you! I wish I had blinked! Anyway: near the very end, Elizabeth Gilbert is giving a voice over that I think is like a mass email she’s sending to all of her friends but so she’s basically explaining all of the powerful lessons she has learned during her year of adventures and how it has opened her heart to the world or something, and during this monologue, the movie cuts away to a montage of all the people in her life, and we see this:
That is her ex-husband. With his new wife. And their baby. He looks happy! They all do! FUCK YOU NEVERTHELESS, ELIZABETH GILBERT. You see, the point of this shot is to imply that somehow Elizabeth Gilbert is responsible for his happiness. “See, you wouldn’t have been happy with me. Now you have what you wanted. So, if you think about it, it’s actually kind of thanks to me.” It is the classic move of the raging narcissist to actually TAKE CREDIT for this. No, ma’am. Just because your ex-husband was able to put his life back together without you doesn’t mean what you did was nice or cool. You’re still a selfish, self-absorbed, kind of awful person. As proven here once again. (And just to cut off any accusations at the knees, 8 Mile-style: yes, part of my opinion on this matter is formed by the fact that I have dated self-absorbed, narcissistic people in the past who acted horribly. It’s OK! I’m doing great. But just because I am doing great doesn’t make them NOT self-absorbed or narcissistic. That’s not how that works even a little bit.)
Look, I know that I am not the target audience for Eat, Pray, Love, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t find it to be horribly obnoxious and self-serving. Moreover, I actually think I have more respect for the target audience of Eat, Pray, Love than its author does (or than the movie’s director, Glee-creator Ryan Murphy does), because I respect that audience enough not to patronize and lie to it and just tell it that all you have to do is go for it. That’s not true! Sometimes just going for it is not a realistic possibility. Sometimes you kind of have to keep your head down and muddle through. For many of us, when life proves almost unbearably difficult, it’s not just an issue of WANTING TO GO ON VACATION BECAUSE OUR BOYFRIEND IS TOO YOUNG FOR US. And for those of us for whom that IS the decisive decision to be made, again, please, do it, go everywhere, eat everything, but shut the fuck up. Some of us have work to do.