A girl went looking for enlightenment, and couldn't find it anywhere.
Here's the thing about this movie. I found it enormously entertaining —likable cast, wry dialogue, cool international locations. But I didn't believe for a nanosecond that Julia Roberts' Liz Gilbert was on a serious spiritual journey. It just seemed like a convenient way to dodge the problems in her life.
(Around the world on a freelance writer's salary. Hah! Right there, you know this movie is taking place in Fantasyland. It's like that Drew Barrymore movie, Never Been Kissed, where she's a cub reporter at some newspaper and they give her an office!!! AND a secretary!)
But it's no wonder women love this book so much; it tells them it's okay to stop depriving themselves and go eat! (Preferably in Italy!) (Although I had to laugh when Julia/Liz makes a crack about buying new "fat lady jeans." What, she went from a Size 0 to a Size 1? Oh, the humanity.) The story also it encourages women to empower themselves and jump-start their stagnant lives, then promises them a sexy, wonderful man (in the movie, Javier Bardem) if they just don't give up on love.
But what bugged me was the cavalier way the movie Liz kept discarding all these men, as if the lack of purpose in her life was somehow their fault. Sure, an early marriage before the partners know themselves or each other, that's an honest mistake; it happens a lot. (Although no attempt was made here to make Roberts or Billy Crudup look any younger in the flashback scenes; they looked exactly the same —even had the same hairstyles—on their wedding day as in their last scene together with the divorce lawyer.)
But then she takes up with the sexy, adoring young actor played by James Franco. In need of a post-divorce crash pad after two weeks imposing on her friend/editor, Liz moves all her stuff into his tiny apartment, parades him around among her friends, giggling, "He's only 28!" (nudge nudge, wink wink), then starts to get all affronted about her personal space when the poor guy mistakenly believes they're in, you know, a relationship.
When new men in her life open up to her, she backs off, leaving a trail of broken hearts because she just can't commit, the very thing we used to berate footloose men for in the movies (and life). My psychoanalytical friends point out that a woman's fear of losing herself in a relationship is not the same as a man who claims he needs to be "free," but the end results are the same in this movie: dumped partners left scratching their heads wondering what they did wrong.
And even in Bali, near the end of her journey, when we're supposed to believe that Liz has finally come to terms with her elusive selfhood and dares to start building a new relationship, she still acts like she's just been handed a plague cocktail when her Brazilian sweetie wants to take her away for a few days. Four days alone on a deserted tropical island with Javier Bardem, and she says no? You call that enlightened?.
No doubt the book dealt in deeper complexities (at least I hope so). But it doesn't seem to require a world tour and a Balinese holy man to glom onto the one piece of insight the movie offers: that loving someone else can lead to a more balanced life than endless, solo navel-gazing. Gee, ya think?