The all-powerful influence of Oprah is undeniable. As soon as a book strays into her field of vision it becomes an instant best-seller. Such it was with Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat Pray Love, which in accordance with the Hollywood Monetising Machine will now be inflicted upon cinemagoers.
Julia Roberts plays Liz, a travel writer who seems to have everything she could need but still remains unfulfilled. After a trip to Bali to visit a medicine man, she is cautioned that she will have one short marriage and one long marriage. Returning to New York wracked with uncertainty about whether she’s in the long or the short one, she systematically destroys her relationship with her husband (Billy Crudup), who’s smart, kind and supportive and whose main fault seems be a love for his wife over money.
Hatred for her selfish character established, Liz begins a massively self-indulgent travelogue. She moves to Italy for four months where she learns how to eat (shot in glorious Marks & Spencer food porn mode) and is tutored by handsome Italian men in how to gesticulate wildly and the pleasures of wasting time. Here she professes that life’s too short not to give in to excesses and delivers a monologue on how jean sizes don’t matter – something that would be more convincing if Julia Roberts decided to embrace that maxim and actually rise above a size 0.
Her appetite satiated, she moves on to an Ashram in India to get in touch with her inner self. There, having trouble concentrating she meets “Richard from Texas” (Richard Jenkins), an old hand who advises her to “forgive herself” before delivering a grandstanding speech about his past troubles as an alcoholic.
Sensually and spiritually sated, she returns to Bali where she befriends the old medicine man and falls in love with Brazilian ex-pat hunk Filipe (Javier Bardem).
If you took a box full of fortune cookies, a shed-load of bumper sticker slogans and the contents of a self-help section of your local bookstore and mixed them liberally in a pot, adding sprinklings of self-congratulating claptrap and smugness, you might get something resembling Eat Pray Love.
Liz is inherently unlikable as a character: selfish and purely motivated by self-interest, she does whatever she feels, regardless of others’ feelings or needs. Worse the film seems to suggest that this is justified because she’s being “true to herself” or other such pop-psychology rubbish. The film also neglects to mention that the original Liz Gilbert was paid to write her travelogue with a hefty publisher’s advance – odd considering a financial motivation might make her less than insufferable.
Not only this but her world trip, in which she hangs out at the most expensive cafes and rents the most luxurious beachside cottages would only be available to the richest percentile, but her so-called journey of self-discovery is ostensibly portrayed as an option open to everyone.
It trots out vacuous axioms with worrying frequency (“the only thing harder than not leaving was leaving”, “To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life”) which are hilariously reminiscent of The Sphinx from 1999’s Mystery Men (“Until you master your fear, fear will be your master”) culminating in a scene where Liz refers to her journey as “quest physics”.
Not only do these grate across your nerves like razor-wire across a peach, it goes on for nearly two and half hours – a punishingly excruciating length for such pretentious rubbish.
What’s especially aggravating about Eat Pray Love is that it’s convinced that it’s important – that all of Liz’s rambling pop-psych balderdash says anything about the human condition, that it’s more than just a fluffy piece of escapism in which everyone can abandon their responsibilities and still have the fairy tale ending.
It’s just as shallow as any other Hollywood blockbuster but cloaked under the pretence of faux-intellectualism that it mistakenly believes gives depth, when in reality Liz is a selfish, self-absorbed narcissistic bore and Eat Pray Love is a self-aggrandising, over-long piece of self-satisfied bullshit.