Radio 08.20.10
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film that opened this week at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
            “Eat, Pray, Love” features a main character who’s maddeningly inconsistent, and frustratingly unhappy:  not only with herself, but with everyone around her.  Liz (Julia Roberts) doesn’t seem to have any family of origin, and/or has long since cut off all contact with them.  Liz does have a best friend, but she argues with her constantly, and Liz herself says to her, in a fit of pique, “You are always there for me, but when am I there for you?  I’m offering you nothing because I have nothing to give.”
            Actually, that seems to the viewer to be true, but it was blurted out in the context of Liz deciding that she had to go somewhere else to “find herself,” and her best friend was saying that she had support here, why did she need to venture out alone?  But Liz The Restless was determined to end a tedious relationship with a good-looking younger man, which itself ended a marriage where her husband just could not understand what the problem was, and offered to go to counseling, wait for her, anything, but she would not.
            Sigh.  Most of the reason we’d be even interested in someone this hopelessly self-absorbed is because she’s pleasing to the eyes, and Julia Roberts still “has it”:  the camera loves her.  She still has that incandescent smile, the long, flowing, elegant beauty who looks intelligent even when her actions are completely unintelligible, even to herself.
First there’s the four months in Italy , where she stumbles around with the language (she has a private tutor, but her great triumph in fluency is ordering from a menu at a restaurant).  She makes some friends, some expatriates who hang out with the locals, again beauty attracting the desired attention, but after “discovering” that eating food is indeed, a pleasure, which in America she apparently forgot because she was too obsessed about body image, she soon turns restless there, also, and wanders to India, where they’re praying toward a photograph of a young woman who’s gone to visit her other ashram back in New York?  For the uninitiated, this is completely incomprehensible religious activity:  meditate while sitting on the floor with legs crossed (a position that the normal middle-aged person can’t sustain for very long without something going numb), then chant in a strange language and feel closer to…some amorphous divine spirit?  Eh?  Some older American guy takes an interest in her, but Liz keeps insisting to everyone that she doesn’t “need” men to find out who she is.  (Though we’re not told, it appears that she’s financing this journey, though, with the money she gained from her divorce.)  She does, actually, have a meaningful emotional exchange with the wise-cracking older guy, however, as he pours out his anguish to her about his problem drinking, and how it broke up his marriage, and therefore made him unavailable to help raise his son (the fact that he’s in India would itself make him unavailable, it would seem, but that little deceit is apparently ignored by them both).  She, in turn, accepts his advice that she needs to “forgive herself” for her failed marriage/relationships, so she can “clear her mind.” (It wasn’t really your fault that you ran out on them, they were somehow incomplete and needy and you lost your identity in them, so they dragged you down and prevented your self-discovery journey.)
            Now, as if we haven’t had enough psycho-babble already, we journey to Bali , where a bald, toothless, 60-something “medicine man” who spouts platitudes with a straight face and broken English, tells her she needs romance.  After raising money to help the single Mom who’s a “herbal healer” to buy a house, Liz finally succumbs to the charms of another wandering divorcee (Javier Bardem), who is only too happy to woo her, but somewhere in their chugging off to their romantic getaway, we wonder what happened to her resolve to “find herself” by herself.  Oh, well.
            The best scene, and the most sincerely religious one, is near the beginning, when Liz falls down on her knees and prays, in tears, with a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).  It’s all vacuous self-absorption from there.  At the end, we still think of Liz as the kind of woman who’s going to wake up one morning and decide she’s unhappy with whomever it is that happens to be with her at the time.  And we feel more for him than for her.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM