Julia Roberts

Eat Pray Love

eat pray love

Eat, pray, love sounds like a marvelous plan if you’re hoping to overcome some midlife crisis, or quarterlife in my case. This film’s main character, Liz (Julia Roberts) does a lot of all three when she decides to step away from her life as a married, well heeled writer and take an adventure around the world. This is a good approximation of my life, except the part about being married, well heeled, or a writer. Basically, I wanted to step away, and that put me in a vulnerable position to enjoy the movie, the sort that I normally wouldn’t watch because I have an aversion to self-help memoirs, or whatever genre you want to classify the same-titled book on which Eat Pray Love is based.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller chronicles her struggle to “find herself,” and this adaptation will resonate with those are feeling a bit unmoored. It dips into some of the dark spaces where one is wont to confront fears and failures. Liz must reconcile the fact that her fickle husband (Billy Crudup), a man she loves and has been married to for eight years, is not the man for her, nor perhaps is the younger man (James Franco) she begins seeing after her divorce. That in turn has her questioning the map of her life, including her chosen career and the values and lifestyle that favors. One can argue that’s a good problem to have; if I was a published author who mingled with the East Coast intellectuals and whose work featured in national magazines, I would be writing about existential crises, not having one.

But Liz is deeply dissatisfied and not the type to just talk out her problems. A girl’s night out will not do it, and why should it when you have the money to quit your job and jet around the world for a year? Her funding, in reality, came from an advance, so let that knowledge settle where it may. For me, this information reinforced the artificiality of the project. Of course an attractive white woman would find enlightenment abroad, especially where brown people congregate in steaming huts without the benefit of air conditioning. Her journey is neatly packaged – delight in culinary pleasures in Italy, gain discipline through prayer in India, and reawaken her heart on the coasts of Indonesia.

This at least turns the film into a glossy travel and eats brochure. There’s a lot to coo at, such as the sumptuous tight shots of food – pastas, pizzas, and pastries galore – that forced me to hide my cider and popcorn in shame. The camera also plays with bold color palettes – fuchsia and gold at an Indian wedding and then a verdant palm tree grove in Bali. The photography alone arouses the senses, a way of stirring you out of your Netflix-induced coma.

One of Liz’s Italian friends observes that Americans know entertainment but not pleasure; they spend their days working or recovering from it. While Eat Pray Love is not the antidote to that, it orients you towards an arguably better way of living, and I can take that pill, along with its sugary self-help placebos. (“To lose balance for love is part of living a balanced life.” “Accept everyone you meet along the way as your teacher.” “Ruin is the road to transformation.”)

But for all its well placed truth baubles, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being duped. I like collective life wisdom with a glass of wine. I like the idea of a guru, though not mystical or exotic or, by those definitions, necessarily Asian. I like nervous, disastrous starts of true love. I even like crusty old men played by Richard Jenkins who turn out to have a deeply buried soft spot. But for a movie about a woman in a right emotional and spiritual mess, there are too many clean lines and compartments. The film works if you accept Liz and her enlightened sermons on self-fulfillment at face value. I don’t always, so fellow cynics, beware.

Released: 2010
Prod: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner
Dir: Ryan Murphy
Writer: Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt
Cast: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, James Franco, Sophie Thompson, Mike O’Malley, Christine Hakim, Arlene Tur, Hadi Subiyanto, Gita Reddy, Tuva Novotny, Luca Agentero, Rushita Singh
Time: 140 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Valentine’s Day

valentines day

Here is the least painful way to review the scattershot film that is Valentine’s Day. I will give you one handful of plotlines and another handful of stars, and you try to match them up.

1) Girl dates doctor, decides to surprise him, but discovers he is married.
2) Teenage boy and girl decide to have sex, and then don’t.
3) Mom loves her little boy.
4) Boy proposes to girl, she accepts, but everyone knows he should really be dating his best friend.
5) Girl meets nice boy and they hit it off, until he learns that she is a phone sex operator.
6) Girl throws anti-Valentine’s Day party every year to bemoan her single status.
7) Boy loves boy.

A) Hector Elizondo
B) Julia Roberts
C) Anne Hathaway
D) Bradley Cooper
E) Topher Grace
F) Jennifer Garner
G) Jamie Foxx
H) Taylor Lautner
I) Shirley MacLaine
J) Ashton Kutcher

If you haven’t figured it out yet, don’t. This is as close as you will come to caring about this movie anyway. It is as if Garry Marshall and his writing team were afraid that no more romantic comedies would ever be made, ever, ever, and therefore they needed to cram every damn scenario and cliche and demographic and movie star and Taylor Swift song they could into one ginormous motion picture. In fact, the only thing they missed was an animal, possibly cross-species romance. Why didn’t they think of that?!

Since the filmmakers didn’t give this film much thought, I’m going to extend the same courtesy and say only these three things. First, it tries so hard to be Love Actually. It’s not. Know your limits, as in limit your storylines and star wattage. Second, the film takes place in L.A. It’s a fact that almost all the non-white people disappear from L.A. on Valentine’s Day. Finally, this movie reminded me of a Korean pop music video. We all have our favorite member, but he or she only solos for 7 seconds. It also reminded me I would rather watch a K-pop video because it’s shorter by 120 minutes. And they dance.

Released: 2010
Prod: Mike Karz; Wayne Allan Rice
Dir: Garry Marshall
Writer: Katherine Fugate
Cast: Ashton Kutcher; Jennifer Garner; Jamie Foxx; George Lopez; Patrick Dempsey; Julia Roberts; Anne Hathaway; Jessica Biel; Queen Latifah; Bradley Cooper; Eric Dane; Bryce Robinson; Hector Elizondo; Shirley MacLaine; Topher Grace; Taylor Lautner; Taylor Swift; Emma Roberts; Jessica Alba; Kathy Bates; Carter Jenkins; Larry Miller; Kristen Schaal; Erin Matthews
Time: 124 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014