World Hum Travel Movie Club: ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Speaker's Corner: A big-screen incarnation of author Elizabeth Gilbert heads to Italy, India and Indonesia. Eva Holland and Eli Ellison go along for the ride.

08.16.10 | 8:49 AM ET

It’s been a long four years since Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, began its extended stay on bestseller lists around the world. Now, after much anticipation, the film adaptation has arrived. But will the bestseller spawn a blockbuster? World Hum Travel Movie Clubbers Eva Holland and Eli Ellison set aside their half-eaten pasta dishes, rolled up their yoga mats and pedaled their Balinese bicycles to their neighborhood theaters to find out.

To: Eva
From: Eli
Subject: Nervous breakdown

Yesterday I hit rock bottom. While folding my girlfriend’s panties I realized the sad old laundromat is a welcome escape from the daily flood of phone calls from debt collectors and frantic “When can I expect this?” emails from my editor. My romantic relationship? It’s fine, so she tells me. But my pet cat does have tapeworms. And my car’s “Check Engine” light just went on, again.

You see, I’m as whiny, privileged and self-centered as Julia Roberts’ rendition of Elizabeth Gilbert. Never has a man been more ready to weep over travel treacle. Did I cry? Affirmative. A big crocodile tear rolled down my cheek during one scene, though I’ll deny that in court. As for the other two-plus hours of self-discovery prattle, they were mostly pure torture. 

Having not read the book, I can only speak of the mess on screen, which often felt rushed. You read that right. If EPL had taken time to develop some kind of connection between Liz and the other come-and-go characters (especially in Italy), I’d have gladly sat through three hours.

As is, one of the few times EPL felt genuine was during the brief scenes between Liz and Tulsi (Rushita Singh), a 17-year-old girl she befriends at an ashram in India. After the girl’s arranged Indian wedding, they share a scene in which Liz devotes her recital of the Guru Gita to Tulsi. ‘Twas this that brought said tear to my eye. Sure, it’s designed to do that. But I’m a sucker for mush when it works. Not five minutes later, the searching-for-redemption “Richard from Texas” character (Richard Jenkins) blubbers through a confessional so affected and so clearly intended to trigger tears, I ceased to care. I sat back and shifted into full escapism mode.

As cinematic travel porn, it doesn’t get much better. Italy is like I remember it: Roman ruins, busy cafes and beautiful chaos. I’ve not visited India, but when the time comes I’m going on a God quest in an “air-conditioned meditation cave” just like Liz. Bali, near the top of my see-before-I-die list, looks fab. However, by the third act all I wanted was some high-def SCUBA footage of tropical fish, and for Liz to shaddup already.

I know you’re a rom-com sap. And I know you liked the book, but come on, you can’t tell me this is worth 10 bucks and two ass-numbing hours.

To: Eli
From: Eva
Subject: Eating popcorn and praying for the end

I’d like to disagree with you, Eli—because I loved the book, because I had medium-to-high hopes for the film, and, if nothing else, because a little conflict would make for a better movie club. But dammit if that two-point-five hours didn’t feel more like seven. Put bluntly: I was bored out of my tree.

You mentioned that the flick felt rushed; you’re dead on. There was a lot of ground to cover here, both physical and emotional, and all too often the effort to jam it all in resulted in choppy story-telling and, as you say, a superficial array of secondary characters. The result: I had serious trouble getting invested in the action. Why was Liz so unhappy in her marriage at the outset? Why was David, the young beau who swept in post-separation, so infatuated with our broken-down heroine? Why did those handsome, multilingual, thoughtful Italian men seem content to spend their days explaining their language and their country to a melancholy foreign woman?

I never got my answers, and I didn’t much care: I just wanted all the eating, praying and loving to end.

Let’s talk positives briefly. You’re right: The travel side of things was fantastic. I may not have cried on cue (unlike some supposedly-jaded critics I know) but the Italian scenes elicited numerous stomach grumbles, and I thought some of the movie’s lighter, funnier moments—Liz’s early, rapid-fire exchanges with Richard from Texas, for instance, or the snappy dialogue from stalwart friend Delia—were well written and well paced. Flavors of the month Steven, David and Felipe (played by Billy Crudup, James Franco and Javier Bardem) were welcome human additions to the geographical eye candy. But was it worth it? Unequivocally, no. Consider me officially disappointed with the travel movie event of the summer.

To: Eva
From: Eli
Subject: Chick power

Why was David so head over heels for Liz? Unlike me, he really seemed to enjoy folding his girlfriend’s delicates. Why was Liz unhappy in marriage? Its institutional trappings have deadened her soul and she owes herself independence. Come on, Eva, you’re supposed to be lapping up this chick power stuff.

Be honest. You loved the book? I read a few sample pages on Amazon. It’s well written, I suppose. But in the first chapter it’s already apparent her journey is too premeditated, too neat. The movie felt this way as well. Pretend the book didn’t exist and it’s easy to picture the Hollywood pitch meeting: “Julia Roberts finds herself in Italy, India and Indonesia. We get three hunks to go along with the three I’s, and BOOM, summer vacation box office gold, baby!” 

EPL grossed a healthy $23.7 million in the US this weekend, but I think once the bad word of mouth gets out, this picture’s sunk. Not even the travelogue aspect can save this bore. Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but I can O.D. on glistening plates of pasta and aerial shots of the Colosseum watching Food Network and Travel Channel.

Before I go reclaim my manhood by watching some football, I pose a final question. I remember reading a scathing review of that other summer travel chick flick, “Sex and the City 2,” which said the movie was self-indulgent, unfunny and glorified “hedonism as the new feminism.” Don’t you think the same could be said about EPL?

To: Eli
From: Eva
Subject: People and places

“Hedonism as the new feminism”? Sure, I can see that. After all, we’re talking about a movie that presents multi-course Italian liquid lunches and subsequent new-fat-pants shopping sprees as rebellious push-back against modern-day beauty standards for women. Nothing a credit card can’t solve, right?

But here’s my real issue: It’s been said many a time, that a great travel story often rests on the shoulders of its characters. Or, put differently: The people make the place. And yeah, I did enjoy the book—in large part, I think, not because I have any desire to set out on a year-long spiritual journey of my own, but because the people in it felt real to me. And, as we both agreed above, that fullness of character just didn’t translate to the big screen. So you can cobble together an army of arty shots of fresh Roman asparagus and sad, lingering shots of dusty Indian children and you can place your actors in front of a thousand perfect Balinese sunsets—and director Ryan Murphy pulled out all the stops on that front—but if I don’t care about the people, I’m not going to care about their journey. End of story.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

Eli Ellison

16 Comments for World Hum Travel Movie Club: ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Christine 08.16.10 | 2:55 PM ET


Laura 08.16.10 | 4:43 PM ET

When a review of EPL first appeared in our paper, my husband said “you’re not going to make me see this, are you?”  After reading Eli’s and Eva’s views, I guess I’m not, even though I love a good cry.

David 08.16.10 | 7:17 PM ET

I have been searching for the title of a movie that features time travel tourism that results in serious consequences when someone steps off the path. Resulting trips back to fix the mistake only seem to make it worse. What is this movie? Thanks.

Rose White 08.17.10 | 4:00 PM ET

I agree with all of the above comments.  I loved the book, laughed at her witty comments.  And wasn’t going to see the movie, because Julia Roberts just doesn’t feel like the right person for the role.  It’s a big screen movie to appreciate fully the beautiful scenery. But we live in a wasteland of movies here on The Big Island and we’re desparate for anything almost decent to see.  The movie is so “so so”. 08.18.10 | 8:03 AM ET

Having not read the book, perhaps you could clear something up:  Was Liz a rich divorcee who set out on a spiritual quest?  Did she stay in swanky hotels or spa-like dwellings?  Just curious to know this.  If you’re going to go on a true spiritual journey, wouldn’t it make sense to really get down and dirty with it and not focus on food or other material goods?

Eva Holland 08.18.10 | 11:23 AM ET

Hi Travel-Writers-Exchange -

I wouldn’t call Liz a rich divorcee. She was well off, lost everything in the divorce, and received a book advance to go on the trip that became Eat, Pray, Love. She didn’t stay in any swanky hotels. She did apartment/house rentals in Rome and Bali, and stayed in a dorm in the ashram in India. As for the material goods vs. spiritual journey question, that was sort of the point of the trip: Her official goal was to explore pleasure in Italy (hence all the fine food), devotion in India, and to learn to balance the two in Bali.

Hope that helps.

Jigliua rovutie 08.18.10 | 11:23 PM ET

Eat Pray Love movie is been released and most of the women are going to watch Eat Pray Love for certain reasons. I been one of them and the story line of this movie was excellent to preview most of the tale in the movie was in favor of every one who enjoys the freedom of living and the main cast of the movie Julia Roberts is adding some thing more than expected too


BridgeToBhutan 08.23.10 | 3:08 AM ET

Thanks for the piece! Great travel memoir and a huge encouragement for solo travelers. Happy Trails~

grizzly bear mom 08.25.10 | 8:53 AM ET

David, H.G. Wells wrote the time machine about someone who goes back in time to shoot a dinosauer immediately before it would have died anyway, but because he steeped off the perscribed path and onto a butterfly he changed the future negatively.  i don’t know anything about going back to fix things. 

The EPL book seemed self indulgent to me.  Seems she left an okay marriage (why else would she be trying to have a baby?) and went on a quest for pleasure in italy and devotion in india.  that in itself seems self indulgent.  in my travels from palaces, to prisons to jungles; i’ve learned most from interacting with the average “peasant” (yes most people are much less better off economically than those who post here) than from seeing the perscribed sites.

John M. Edwards 08.25.10 | 8:11 PM ET

Hi Eva and Eli:

EPL is about “envy.” We love to hate these sort of things, because we’ve experienced “a year off” ourselves traveling the globe, and we feel that we could write a better book about it. Italy, India, and Bali make no sense for a well-rounded orbit. It’s like eating Burger King, McDonald’s, and Popeye’s on the same day. But Julia Robert’s self-satisfied smile drives home the fact that we are jealous of our friend’s travels, which usually include mean postcards and some nah-nah-nah-nah upon return.

John M. Edwards

John M. Edwards 08.25.10 | 8:28 PM ET

Hi Worldhum:

I’d like to point out that grizzly bear mom made a glaring error in her entry up two above. No dinosaurs appear in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. What she meant was a short story called “A Sound of Thunder,” by Ray Bradbury, which was also made into a film.

Oops, I guess, but the analogy rubbed me the wrong way, like Regis Philbin dryhumping Lady Gaga.

John M. Edwards

shashank Naithani 08.27.10 | 2:41 AM ET

Hi Eva and Eli:

I loved the book. it was fantastic.

Anton Raumos 08.31.10 | 12:35 AM ET

I went to see Eat, Pray, Love, I couldn’t understand what all her angst was all about. Typical rich woman used to having it all, who’s never really had any real problems in her life, no real suffering. Gee Elizabeth, try being black living in the South dealing with Katrina with a government run by politicians that hate black people. Try living in a country so poor you’re willing to jump a 20 foot fence, swim ocean currents, hide in cars and trucks driven by mad greedy exploiters to get to a country where there’s financial opportunity. Yet you’re hated by most of the people whom hire you to do the most menial of dirty jobs. I think Elizabeth Gilbert is a self centered insensitive creature. and it’s truly a boring film.

KT 09.01.10 | 10:19 AM ET

Hello All,

While I can appreciate the witty diatribes directed against Gilbert and the film in general, I would like to offer a different perspective. Having read the book long before ever seeing the film, I was wary of how the film may ruin the book. I was not expecting a life-changing film experience that pulled all of the book’s vibrant life and transferred it to the screen, and I didn’t get that . However, I was pleasantly surprised with, if nothing else, the “eye candy” (speaking of the food and landscapes, not the men!) in the film. 

I disagree with the multiple comments that Gilbert is a rich, selfish divorcée and that she needs to just “shaddup and shape up” because I too have found myself crying for weeks on end (albeit not on the bathroom floor) and wondering why I can’t just “be happy.” If any of you have ever felt desperately lost in life and cannot shake the angst, the feeling that this life is not quite what you signed up for, you may understand. Call it depression. Call it anxiety. Call it a longing for something more, but the overwhelming feeling of desperation that comes from the inability to control one’s own thoughts can call for desperate measures. I do not consider Gilbert selfish then; I consider her lost.

Finally, while it is always difficult on film to portray one person’s personal travel experience, I felt a connection to Gilbert. Although I did not feel connected to the other characters or even necessarily her travels (even though I too have traveled to Italy and Bali), I did feel connected to her emotional journey and her search for peace. Perhaps my understanding of her emotions and her search to quiet her mind is why I will staunchly defend her story.

Frangelica 09.01.10 | 3:42 PM ET

To Eli and Eva:
The book was great, yet the movie was ok. The problem I have with your comments is that you metion superficial and self-indulgent. That is the theme of this book / movie. It was potraying a time for Gilbert to take care of her needs and her desires. Self-indulgent? No. Deserved.

In Tuscany 09.07.10 | 8:15 AM ET

The book is simply delicious.
The story of my life!! “Eat, Pray, Love”
Many women want to connect love, food, and faith.
See you soon in Italy!

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.