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Well, at least since ‘Julie & Julia.’
I made it a point not to read the critics’ reviews of the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s smash hit memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” starring the always wonderful Julia Roberts–I wanted to enjoy the movie without them nagging in my ears about how it was cliche or whatever else they had to say in the way of not liking it. But the movie was happily excellent in its own right, and didn’t need my sheltering it from the reviewers.
Julia Roberts is amazing in this role–lovable certainly, but she plays Gilbert with an intense dose of heartbreak and loss, something that surprised me as I watched. I must have cried five times by the time we were mid-way through India, and some of those tears were shed during Italy and over the glorious food on the tables. Though when I read the memoir I was aware that it was filled with sadness for much of the story, what with Gilbert’s tale of divorce, of brokenness, and of turning to God for consolation and the courage to move forward, I think the utter beauty of the writing and Gilbert’s sense of humor on the page distracted me from some of the loss permeating the book. But Roberts plays Gilbert as brimming with emotion throughout the entire film, and for much of it she wears her sadness plainly on her face, her eyes tearing up freely and often.
So many of Gilbert’s critics have slammed her for the fact that “Eat, Pray, Love” is in so many ways a woman’s mid-life crisis, post-divorce fantasy–a fairytale ending for a woman who risks it all and threw a lot of a good thing away for the sake of the chance at a different kind of happiness. That Roberts captures the acute loss in Gilbert’s story should ease the bite of some of these particular critics. Of course, in the movie adaptation Gilbert ends her year in the arms of none other than Javier Bardem, who is utterly winning as Felipe, the man that Gilbert ultimately marries, post memoir.
My one major criticism is the “talking to God” piece of the film–or lack of one–which was one of the best parts of the book. I love the way Gilbert takes up her conversations with God and to me, this conversation lies at the heart of what makes her story so compelling. It’s God that is behind her ability to take this journey in the first place–that the writers and producers decided to downplay this in the movie was incredibly disappointing and I wonder why? Gilbert’s millions of readers could handle it, shouldn’t moviegoers be able to as well?
On the whole, though, this was a wonderful and wonderfully smart movie aimed at women. It’s too bad that most of what is aimed at women nowadays in theaters is filled with embarrassing pratfalls, and uncomfortably Mommy humor. If the previews running before ‘Eat, Pray, Love’–presumably aimed at the all-women audience–are a barometer of what women have to look forward to in the way of movies in the near future, it looks as though we have a long, long wait before another smart, emotionally astute film comes our way.

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