OK, I’ll admit it up-front: I loved the book. Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey inspired me as she set off to Italy, India, and Bali to discover herself and God, while escaping from the life she’d willingly made with her husband in the box store-loving suburbs. My son was a few years old when I read it. Some days, while reading the book, the travel bug hit so hard I would find myself with my hand on my heart, nearly gasping for breath as I pushed my little guy on the swing in our fenced back yard. I just wanted to sell the house and travel the world with my family. And visit an ashram. In addition to traveling and eating the world’s best pizza, Gilbert was earnestly fumbling toward finding a sustainable connection to God. One of my favorite passages was when she finally broke through her inability to meditate, and basically experienced what it was like to be in the hand of God.
When the movie was announced with Julia Roberts playing Gilbert, I wondered how they could make such an internal journey - though admittedly with beautiful backdrops – into a movie. The answer is that they took the book, and made a movie trying to please the masses, a-la Sex in the City. When I entered the movie theater, the employees were wearing shirts with “Eat Pray Love” on the back, with quotes such as “I’m having an affair with my pizza” written on the front. A sticker on the ice cream window said, “You don’t need a man, you need a Champion! – Eat, Pray, Love.” And buy ice cream.
Though Roberts was great, and really got Gilbert’s personality and spirit, the movie felt long and incongruous as it tried to incorporate the different components of her journey. Perhaps expectedly, it ended up being a Cliff’s Notes version, without the depth of the book. Gilbert’s torment and depression pre-and post-divorce were barely touched on, save her mentioning she didn’t want to be married, and joking with her friend about Xanax. Instead of sobbing on the cold tile in the bathroom night after night, instead she can’t sleep and decides to kneel on the bathroom floor and say an introductory prayer to God. If you weren’t already there sobbing your soul out, why would you choose the bathroom floor to pray?
In Italy, the scenes of Roberts eating into a supposedly larger jean size were beautiful. I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and that was a mistake. I could have tried every one of the dishes she ordered, along with the wine and gelato. My stomach rumbles just thinking about it. But again, the depth of her getting off anti-depressants, and the irony of declaring a year of celibacy and then hearing the nightly romps of her high-heeled upstairs neighbor, was lost. And, speaking of jeans, she and her Swedish friend Sofie decide to buy bigger jeans instead of worrying about their waistlines, but then are shown in a store trying to button some obviously too-small jeans onto their small bodies, and then cheering when they get them on. I thought the idea was to buy bigger jeans to avoid the muffin top and keep eating pasta. The movie got this part so wrong, I had to read to my husband, who came with me to the movie, the Naples and jeans-buying chapters just to set the record straight. What was missing here was Gilbert’s self-effacing humor and descriptions.
India and Bali, similar to Italy, had many of the components of the original story, but skimmed the surface. Her time in God’s palm, the highlight of her Ashram stay, was skipped. Richard from Texas had so many good lines to use in a short amount of time, that he seemed to be a walking one-liner. Ketut the medicine man was sweet, but the complications of trying to buy Wayan a house were omitted. Her meeting and falling in love with Felipe felt contrived, and all the wonderful sex they had was left to one’s imagination as they closed the swinging doors behind them on their way into the bedroom, and let the PG-13 rating stand.
Overall, I think it could have made a better mini-series than trying to fit it into a 133-minute film. I’m glad I saw it, but I could have waited for Netflix.