Eat, Pray, Love – Book and Movie Review

For a couple of years, I had to push Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, out of my way. At the bookstore, a copy was invariably obscuring the book I wanted. I pushed it aside and carried on. The Amazon site, using their crazy little matrix, determined sometime ago that based on my purchases I had to be interested in the book. I didn’t click. At a friend’s house, normally freakishly neat, I had to move it off the chair seat to sit down. At the grocery store, a copy was sitting on top of the bag of spinach I was trying to buy. These instances played out against the merciless promotion of the book for the past year or so as the movie version starring Julia Roberts was filmed, edited, and just as unmercifully promoted.

I think it was the Spinach Event that provoked surrender. Soon thereafter, I was at the bookstore, the memoir was on sale and I bought it. If one wants to get all New Age-y (and at times I do), it can be said the Universe wanted me to read this book.

I settled into the coffee shop with a large mocha and began reading.

I had resisted the book after reading its description. My take was that some 30-something narcissistic chickie with a life most of us envy was wallowing in the pain of an existential hangnail. I didn’t want to read Liz Gilbert, I wanted to smack her. And, generally speaking, I’m opposed to violence.

I also do not read nonfiction for the most part. No matter how much a novel mirrors real life, my emotions are sufficiently kept in check by that fiction label.

I’m real emotional these days.

While pregnant, I was a bundle of hormonal, hair-trigger emotions. In the space of 30 seconds or so, I could go from despair and rage to sprawling on the floor, howling with laughter while banging my fists. I cried because I was happy, because I was sad, because I was mad, because my hormones were rocketing throughout my body. There was the very memorable Spilled Coke event in which I happened upon a spilled fountain drink in a parking lot. There was a puddle of Coke. A popped lid. A mangled straw. I sobbed. Some child, I’m sure, used an entire week’s allowance to buy that Coke, stumbled and lost it all. I sobbed for nearly an hour.

The menopause hormonal imbalance is a lot like that of pregnancy. Funny is hysterical, sad is total despair, and heart-warming just annihilates me.

Nobody told me Eat, Pray Love was laugh-out-loud-in-public-until-you-snort-whipped-cream funny. People with perfectly intact hormone systems tell me it’s not just me. The book is funny. And it’s sad. And it’s heart-warming.

I read it twice. I never read anything twice.

And, yes, it’s about a near-40-something chickie with a life most of us would envy plunged into despair over an existential hangnail. Gilbert’s hangnail was a painful divorce and a painful mid-divorce love affair – a divorce she initiated for reasons she chooses not to detail.

I wanted to roll my eyes at her and tell her to get some perspective. But (1) I was too busy laughing because (2) she realizes how out-of-proportion her misery is and makes so much fun of herself I didn’t need to. It’s the depth of her misery that spurs her plan to travel Italy, India and Bali for a year – not the life events. And I had to hand it to her. After my life events of the past few years, if I could pull off running away from home for a year to get a grip, I’d be at the post office renewing my passport this second.

I loved the book. I want to hang out with Liz Gilbert and eat a fine meal somewhere.

I stated emphatically that I wouldn’t see the movie.

The movie arrived here on Thursday and at 6 p.m. on Friday my mother, who hadn’t read the book, and I were sitting mid-theater watching previews. Upon walking into the theater, I asked two women exiting if the movie was any good. One said it was and the other said, “It was okay.”

I neither like nor dislike Julia Roberts. I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, but don’t regard any of them as works of art. Since Hollywood doesn’t produce art that often, I don’t expect art from a movie. I go to be entertained. In the case of this movie, the reviewers were all over the place – it’s good, it’s bad, it’s okay – but all agreed the scenery was gorgeous. I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery.

I loved the movie. I laughed through much of it. I cried through much of it. (I’m just a spectacle these days.)

The movie departs from the book in some key areas, but does so in the spirit of the book. I hadn’t been interested in the movie because I thought there’s no way to tell Liz’s story visually without losing the spirit of the book. Well. I was wrong.

Mom, who hadn’t read the book, thought the movie was wonderful.

For the past month or so, I’ve been compulsively reading reviews of the book and the movie trying to get a handle on why I liked the book so much. My best guess is because it’s funny – I’m a sucker for humor. Now, I’m going to have to puzzle the movie out. The movie provokes some laughter, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about love, but it’s not a love story.

I’ll probably see the movie a second time. I never watch a movie twice.

Epically Bad Movies

It's bad. Very bad. Phenomenally bad.

Contrary to what it may seem like given this post and yesterday’s, I rarely go to the theater to see a movie.

About twenty years ago, I endured a bad string of movies for which I paid the insane ticket price, $3.50 at the time, to see dreck. On top of paying to have my intelligence and artistic sensibilities insulted, I was subjected to a freezing cold room, too-loud audio, brutally uncomfortable seats and an American public who think the Constitution supports a God-given right to be rude, boorish, and loud.

That string of bad movies coincided with the rise of VCRs and premium movie channels. Twenty years later, I only go to the theater if it’s a movie I think must be seen on a big screen or if it’s one that’s creating a lot of buzz and I want to see what folks are yammering on about.

A few years ago it was Pirates of the Caribbean. Not even the loin quivering effect of Depp’s eyeliner could overcome the physical miseries of the theater. It was July. It was brutally hot and I went, in part, to escape the heat. The theater was cold enough to raise penguins. Completely miserable, I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and huddled under my t-shirt in the feeble warmth of much-laundered cotton. I eventually brought my knees up under the t-shirt, wrapped my arms around my knees, gripped my sandaled toes and hunkered down to ride out the movie. I resembled ET sitting in the bicycle basket.

And while I shivered, my teeth aching with the bass of too-loud Surround Sound, I resisted the urge, in part because I would have to extricate myself from the t-shirt, to pummel the people sitting near me who talked, one to another, and on cell phones. Who were up and down like popping kernels of corn. Who did not disappoint my opinion that we need to have a presidentially appointed Etiquette Czar.

I didn’t step foot in a theater until We Are Marshall was released. This movie was filmed in the town I work in and told the story of the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed Marshall University’s football team along with many civic leaders. The theater in question was a new one and everyone I knew talked about how nice and how comfortable it was. I was dubious, but it turned out to be true. We Are Marshall was a disappointment, but the theater was a delight.

So about once or twice a year now, I’ll go see a movie. I figured Friday’s viewing of Babies was 2010’s offering. However, last night I was charged with taking five teenage girls to see Grown Ups starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. I had no illusions the movie would be an artistic triumph. But given what was spent on the payroll, I figured the movie would at least be mildly entertaining. I fervently hoped Adam Sandler’s penchant to play the same obnoxious character over and over again would be squashed.

I have never, and I do mean never, seen such an inept movie. The acting was bad, the script was worse, the jokes too tired to even limp through the movie. I think I was supposed to be amused and heart-warmed by the foibles of the American family that, though buffeted about by the winds of change, manage to hang onto the core values immortalized by Norman Rockwell.

There were fart jokes, boob jokes, and pee jokes. Tired clichés. Slapstick comedy in a lake house somewhere in mid-America with Salma Hayek traipsing through all the scenes in designer clothes, cleavage, and stiletto heels except for one scene in which it appeared she was wearing a cheerleading costume made of newspaper. The only saving quality was that Adam Sandler did play a different role than his usual one – one so bad that his usual obnoxiousness might have been preferable. 

It was as if they tried a mash up of The Big Chill, Porkies, and On Golden Pond

It was so very bad.

Here’s how bad it was: even the teenagers didn’t like it.

The theater, however, was quite comfortable.

Babies (The Movie)

I have been wild about babies since I wasn’t much older than one. The first time I can remember succumbing to the baby-powder scented, wide-eyed allure of an infant I was 8. Ever since, if you put me within 10 feet of an infant, I have to pluck them from whatever is holding them – people, infant carriers, car seats, cribs, playpens – and nuzzle. I kiss their heads, suck their toes, and engage in a modified Vulcan-mind-lock.

It’s an addiction.

While any child under the age of two will do, I’m especially fond of the 4-5 month old vintages. These small creatures are perfection. They’ve been on the road of life long enough to be able to hold their head up and laugh. They’re also so not so jaded as to fuss about the slavish attentions of someone they’ve never seen in all of their 150 days of existence.

A baby of that vintage is perfectly content to sit on a lap and look adorable for hours at a time. More than just looking adorable, they are – little puff balls of baby fat and smiles earnestly focusing on the fascination of ordinary life. There is no other time in life, other than under the effect of hallucinatory mushrooms, when a balled up sticky note or empty potato chip bag holds the secrets of the universe and must be examined with care.

I come from a long line of baby addicts and now I work with them. No 12-step program for us. We are unabashed in our cootchie-cootchie-coos. We gawk at babies on the street, talk to them in elevators, and rustle them into our laps at any given opportunity.

While it may be true we baby addicts are primarily women, the premier Baby Whisperer is my father. I can routinely charm any baby under the age of 8 months or so, but Dad can have any child under the age of 5 performing at the utmost cutest within a few minutes. He’s the Pied Piper of Little Ones. I’ve seen him convince a complete stranger into dancing at the Bob Evans before the drink orders are filled. At my son’s 6th grade chorus performance, Dad so wound up a toddler in the audience my mother put him in time-out. “Conrad,” she said, “You’re going to get her in trouble.”

A month or so ago, I read the review for the movie Babies. Lord, I was excited.

It’s a movie with almost no dialogue that follows four babies – one each from San Francisco, Tokyo, Namibia, and Mongolia. My inner anthropologist joined forces with my baby addict. 79 minutes of unabashed baby gawking and cultural differences.

I was beginning to despair that the movie would never be shown in my neck of the woods. It did arrive and a fellow addict and I went to see it last night. Besides big screen images of utter cuteness, the movie did a fine job of showing the universal timeline of infant development juxtaposed against differential child rearing practices. For a long time now, I’ve been decrying my need for grandchildren. Well. It’s at fever pitch now.

During the viewing, I was catapulted back in time to my son’s first year of life. I watched those four babies torment a cat, have a tantrum, learn to say mama and struggle to stay awake all the while remembering parts of Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s infanthood that I hadn’t thought about in years.

Not everyone is going to be charmed by this move. Some will be appalled. A larger subsection will be bored, but if you think babies are the pinnacle of perfection you’ll be delighted. The cinematography is spectacular and the scenery is no slouch, but the babies steal the show.