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Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

'Eat Pray Love'

Roberts dons her backpack to worship at the altar of 'me'


My grandmother had a standard line when any of us bothered her with an unforgivable statement or question ("Can I have ¥10,000 to get to Nagoya to see a heavy metal grunge punk band no one's ever heard of?"), which was: "By talking like that, you just hacked off several years from my life span!"

Eat Pray Love Rating: (2.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Self service: Liz (Julia Roberts) drinks in the Italian scenery in 'Eat Pray Love," after leaving her life behind in an attempt to "find herself."

Director: Ryan Murphy
Running time: 133 minutes
Language: English
Opens Sept. 17, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Her words came back with a nostalgic rush the minute I saw Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love" utter, "I wanna go someplace where I can marvel at things," immediately after discarding a husband who adored her, splitting up with a young, hunky musician who couldn't live without her and finally deciding to take a year off from a lucrative career as a hotshot New York writer and travel the world. Surely, this moment would have hacked off at least a decade from my grandma's life, had she still been around to witness it.

I felt a massive deterioration in the white blood cell supply myself. Maybe it was the sight of Julia Roberts gorging on numerous heaped plates of pasta in Italy and though she says she's getting fat, every shred of evidence points to the exact, skinny-jean opposite. Maybe it was the way every other character in the movie was so intent on doing her favors and fixing her up with interesting, doting men. Or maybe it was how she flitted through rural Asia in perfectly streaked hair, thousands of kilometers away from the nearest L'Oreal salon.

Oh dear. There go five years off my life span.

"Eat Pray Love" is based on the phenomenal best-selling autobiography by Elizabeth Gilbert, and as the book's wry, frank humor was somehow lost in (screen) translation, the film can best be described as one woman's journey of self-discovery driven by an incredible capacity for self-indulgence. Apparently, protagonist Liz (Roberts) feels life should be like a breakfast buffet at a five-star hotel with herself the sole guest, dipping fingers into the maple syrup and flirting with the chef at the grill who's in charge of flipping her blueberry pancakes.

Still, is that so bad? The woman only wants to have a good time and she's awfully cute into the bargain, which is more than you can say for the noisome, hygienically challenged, action-obsessed males clogging theater screens at the moment. So why the moaning? What accounts for the turn-off?

It's a mystery, but the longer you watch "Eat Pray Love" the more you'll be miffed. There's a streak of insular insensitiveness that runs through the film like a mullet ponytail, an unsubtle message with just one word: "me."

The film literally hammers you over the head with it. Even hardened Roberts fans may find some moments difficult to stomach — especially when Liz says with sincere exasperation that since the age of 15 she has never had two weeks (or was it two days?) to herself because she had been with some guy or other, and that's the reason why she just has to get away to exotic locations.

In the book, Gilbert decides on Italy (for the food), India (for some spiritual yoga experience) and Bali (for balance, though she ends up finding life-altering love) — and she does it all on her publisher's dime, on the condition that she turn her experiences into a book. (And considering her subsequent success, the ploy made great financial sense for both parties.) In the movie, there's no such explanation, and Liz takes off solely because Liz wants to. No work considerations, no business arrangement. It's just her.

To be fair, the book was published in 2006, before the global financial crisis sent us all into credit meltdown. No doubt there was less angst, less guilt and more freedom overall for someone to embark on a yearlong, dollar-infused trip of self-discovery. Four years later, the same kind of journey has become a lot harder to pull off even for the privileged. For the majority of women, it's a bizarre fairy tale on par with "Sex and the City 2." Oh well. What with iPads and Twitter, at least we're all kept thoroughly entertained, even if our personal lives may stink.

Fairly early in the movie, a sense of awe creeps over the consciousness, watching Roberts' Liz be fanatically concerned about her relationships, her happiness, her space. She cares so much about herself, and is fearless about broadcasting it, too. Maybe she should have just started her own religion in Asia; we sure could use that kind of enlightenment.


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