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In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert travels the world and patches up her baggage with an impressive collection of bumper sticker philosophy.

Caught in a Bad Romance

Liz and her new man
Liz and her new man

The full title of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. But, really, what it’s about is a woman looking for a man more than looking for herself.

At one point during one of Eat Pray Love’s many relationship-centric conversations, Liz comments to the effect that she’s moved through life being a good daughter, then an okay girlfriend, then a bad wife. Taking that another way, she’s always framed her life through other people’s priorities and needs.

Or, to take that further, she’s never been her own woman. Recently divorced and sleeping with a young actor who starred in her navel-gazing attempt at playwriting, Liz wakes up one morning realizing she’s lost her appetite for life and needs to shake things up.

So it’s a tremendous disappointment that Liz’s epic saga about her “search for everything” is really only a search for understanding relationships. Maybe that’s why the whole subtitle was lobbed off the movie’s title. The movie starts out with Liz (as played by Julia Roberts) talking about Cambodian refugees in the United States going to guidance counselors. Not to talk about immigration issues or housing or jobs. No. They go to talk about relationships; the “guy who ran off with another woman but wants his old girlfriend back even though he’s now married” kind of stuff.

Oh brother.

And Liz discusses that while setting herself up for a confession: she’s going to visit an Indonesian medicine man. To talk about relationships.

Help!

The Goal Is Elevation

Well, in fairness, it’s not all about relationships.

During Liz’s very staid and unadventurous travels around the world, she also talks about things like pasta and muffin tops. For a woman who works as a travel writer and has a whole stash of articles about places she’d like to visit from National Geographic and the New York Times Travel section, she lacks imagination.

And she manages to surround herself with like-minded people. While staying at an Indian ashram, Liz chirps at a Texas crank, pointing out that all he does is spout bumper sticker philosophy. Well, Liz, maybe the book is different, but this entire movie is nothing but bumper sticker philosophy. Here’s some of it:

  • Look through your heart, not your head, then you’ll know God.
  • The only thing permanent in life is family.
  • Americans know entertainment, but not pleasure.
  • People settle for misery out of fear of change.
  • Select your thoughts like you select your clothes.
  • Believe in love again.
  • Forgive yourself.
  • Losing balance for love is part of living a balanced life.

And those were just the bits of wisdom that were scribbled down in this journalist’s notebook. No doubt repeat viewings will offer those so inclined more in the way of easily digestible, superficial pearls of pop philosophy. Maybe people who don’t get out much will find this all incredibly insightful.

As for the movie’s chatter about people bugging Liz and frowning on her being older and single, well, get over it. This male writer has received the same grilling and badgering while traveling abroad.

Most people fear independence. Deal with it.

And add that to the bumper sticker collection, courtesy of moi.

Let It Be

So Liz is on this global quest for “everything” (read: man). But, as such high-minded women tend to do, she shirks off some advances because she wants to find herself and sex, theoretically, thwarts self-discovery. To wit, the naked man at the beach. Oh yeah, just walk away. Much too young and virile.

Later on, after she caves into a scruffy-looking man, she feels suffocated and shouts out, “I do not need to love you to prove I love myself!”

Huh?

It sounds like an argument made by a woman lacking in self-love, or at least self-confidence. Maybe she was going after the more sound argument that you have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. (Oooh! Another Mattopian bumper sticker, gratis.)

Liz’s tune changes when the quack medicine man points out how the guy who looks a heckuva lot like Javier Bardem (because he’s played by Javier Bardem) is the right, ultra-sensitive man for her. Forget the little incident when he accidentally ran her off the road while she was riding her bicycle down the mean streets of the Bali countryside. He still makes cassette tape mixes. How can you go wrong with a guy like that?!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Director Ryan Murphy is Hollywood’s latest “it man.” Taking a cue from J.J. Abrams, who launched Alias and Lost on TV before storming the big screen with Mission: Impossible III and the Star Trek reboot, Murphy’s cut his teeth on the small screen with Nip/Tuck and Glee.

Murphy’s talent has steadily been on the rise and he exhibits a lot of visual flair here. Technically, Eat Pray Love is well made. It’s nice to look at. It’s well acted.

But, while the movie overall is a pleasant enough experience, it’s a hollow and pretentious exploration of one woman’s idea of a bold life. Within 12 months of her leaving New York, Liz settles in with yet another relationship at the expense of very little reinvention.

The story holds some promise as the back story of her marriage to a low-ambition baker disintegrates thanks to a total lack of communication. Then the leisurely pacing and cosmetic site-seeing in Rome conjures up thoughts of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. But it all falls apart when the time spent in India and Indonesia focuses less and less on reinvention and more on her puzzling through relationships, both her own and those of others.

It’s a long distance to travel to ultimately achieve the realization that love is scary and dangerous.