So Much for the Critics: I Ate, Prayed & Loved It
By Novar Caine
It would be a chore to watch Julia Roberts’ latest movie, which was part-shot in Bali. Certainly not because of the pretty woman but due to the reams of scathing press that has been heaped on Eat Pray Love. The viewing promised to be a gluttonous ordeal of profligacy portrayed by the Hollywood actress. It was anything but.
You get a sense as the movie reveals itself that the critics have been overly caustic, that they themselves wished they could remove themselves from their office-bound Western lives and embark upon their own journey of Eastern self-discovery.
The tale begins with Liz Gilbert (Roberts) falling out of love with her New York life. Apparently she has it all: money, handsome husband, a glittering social life. So what is wrong? For Roberts it is vacuous; to be the person she feels she should be, something else, a deeper meaning, is required. There are not many among us who, realising an element of growth is missing, have the gumption to address it.
And so, after a degree of visible angst and heavy farewells, our heroine sets out on a long voyage. First to Italy, where she gorges on carbs and wine, and then to India, where it’s austerity, early mornings and listening to the heartbreak of others. Finally she arrives in Bali, a kind of blend of the two before and where she endeavours to seek worth in her life from a toothless medicine man she had once gone to (and who had prophesised she would lose all her money but make it back – he got that last bit right).
The soothsayer, Ketut Liyer, is alive but aged and ailing – and doing a brisk trade in EPL divining. He was asked to play himself in the film, when shooting was under way late last year; but he demurred, saying it would extract too much of a toll on him. The Balinese who took the part looks the part, however.
The overarching theme to this movie – and it should not be only intended for female audiences – is that everyone needs to discover who they are, how they fit into the world, but that most people do not because they are cowed by the overbearing reality of their everyday lives from which they think – erroneously – they cannot escape.
And hence the vitriol, from the media at least.
Gilbert, pre-departure in New York, asked an associate what she was having for lunch. “A salad,” she was told, which propelled the wanderlust lady into dreams of pasta because, in a figure-conscious world, she had “forgotten how to eat.”
She had also forgotten to live. And so she set off on an odyssey to find out how.
There exits the possibility that all of us have forgotten how to eat and pray and love, for so consumed are we with the raw reality of living that we accept whatever is second best. It should not be like that and this is why this film is a valid showcase of the human experience.
Gilbert has been derided for wandering around the world for a year, for whimsically taking off on her self-fulfilment quest. That she had already sold the idea for the book and received a substantial advance is viewed as distracting. Can the project be summed up as a calculated commercial endeavour? Possibly. Were the cast of characters she met unwitting pawns in her play? It is quite likely. Are we being duped and ferried along on the New Age cash cow?
Bali is best, as we know, and it is true of this production. The final part in the three-nation tryst is gorgeous: rich-green fields, sumptuous beaches, inviting people (including the blow-hard expat set). For all the ruckus caused by filming at Ubud Market, the walk-through scene is fleeting. Critics’ claims that Roberts’ character was self-obsessed unravel when we see she cares about others: when she raises funds among her overseas pals to build a house for a woman and her daughter who had left her wife-bashing husband, a gritty act in a land where women have few rights.
In the end Roberts sails off into the sunset with her Bali-found beau (Javier Bardem). Whether the real Ms Gilbert has discovered the life she wanted we do not know. But she got a bestseller out of the adventure, and a Hollywood movie. For the viewer, that is something else to dream about.
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