Making the Grades
Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is unhappy. Although she is a writer of travel magazine articles and a published author, she doesn’t seem content. She is also married to Steve (Billy Crudup), a man with whom she shares an eight-year relationship. Yet buying a house and building a home together hasn’t brought the satisfaction she was expecting. And watching her best friend and publicity agent (Viola Davis) obtain her long-anticipated goal of parenthood makes the journalist long for her old dreams of seeing the world, rather than sparking a desire for children.
One sleepless night she tells Steve she doesn’t want to be married anymore. He is shocked and confused—and frankly so are we, the audience. What is so miserably dreadful or unfixable about her life that she should want to abandon it? But this movie is based on the memoirs of the real Liz Gilbert, so whether or not anyone else understands she jumps out of her marriage and leaps into an affair with a twenty-eight year old aspiring actor (James Franco). One cannot help but notice their age difference (I guess the real Liz was only 32 years-old at the time, but the actress Julia Roberts is 43 and looks it), therefore it is no surprise (to us anyway) when this romance fizzles.
Lost and not used to being alone, the now divorced woman decides what she really needs is a journey of self-discovery. Booking a yearlong vacation, she divides her time between Italy, India and Bali. (While the real-life Liz used an advance on her book to finance this adventure, the movie offers little info as to how she’s paying for this privilege.) Her hope is to uncover the elusive secrets behind a peaceful and balanced life.
In Rome Liz digs into learning a new language (with a handsome tutor played by Luca Argentero) and passionately eats the incredible food, washed down with plenty of wine. (Her no-guilt approach to consuming carbs is sure to be appreciated by anyone tired of North American’s obsession with slimness, even if Roberts herself doesn’t appear to put on any weight.)
Amidst the chaos of Calcutta, Liz settles into a religious commune where she plans to pray and meet God. Instead she meets a loudmouth, cussing pilgrim from Texas (played by Richard Jenkins who offers the best performance in the film) and a local teenaged girl torn between her personal ambitions and her parent-arranged betrothal.
Landing at last in Bali, she reconnects with a medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto) she met on a previous work assignment and is introduced to a single mom struggling to provide for her daughter. As well, she has an opportunity to flirt with love when she runs into a sensitive and charming Brazilian, played by Javier Bardem. (Sexual activity is implied as well as briefly discussed, and some male buttock nudity is shown in a scene that doesn’t lead to intimate relations.)
Yet despite her many experiences and the eloquently worded asides she gives describing the things she has learned, there is never a sense that this character has honestly confessed her inner motivations or demons. Rather her narrations about love not lasting forever sound like a self-fulfilling prophesy from a person unwilling to make commitments, and her quest for freedom and self-fulfillment appear more like a façade for excessive selfishness.
And that is a shame because by the time the credits roll on this lengthy (though beautifully shot) movie, I can’t help thinking the things she was searching for were there. Each of the people she meets exemplifies that real joy is found in family life, and the greatest sorrow comes from missing those connections. Her excuses for ending her marriage also pale when compared to the plights of others. However, none of these insights are ever acknowledged or addressed. Although Liz seems to think she’s an enlightened soul by the end of her runaway expedition, I left hungering for something more satiating, wishing for true spiritual inspiration and feeling little affection or sympathy for this character’s midlife crisis.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Eat Pray Love.
This movie, based upon a true story, features a female protagonist who is a writer. What occupations would allow a person to take a yearlong journey around the world? How much information does the movie provide about her financial circumstances? Why is this glossed over?
When Liz celebrates Thanksgiving with an Italian family, what does she say she is grateful for? Why does she fight back tears during this declaration? What do they have that she doesn’t?
How does the greatest regret confessed by Richard from Texas also underscore the importance of family relationships?
What reasons does Liz give for leaving her marriage? Do you think these are the real (or only) issues? How do they compare to the decisions of her young friend in India or the medicine woman in Bali?
As Liz looks at the ruins in Rome she expresses her belief that love cannot last forever. Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
Have you ever wanted to run away from life? Why would you want to go? What things might make you stay?