“You, you, you,” says the toothless holy man. “Me, me, me,” says Julia Roberts. Yes, she has returned…the high priestess of Hollywood’s true religion: the self. Behind every red ball of Kabbalah string…behind every pledge to Scientology…there’s an ego. And none is bigger or more ferocious than Julia’s. To even think of starring in Eat Pray Love, you need an ego the size of India. Based on the best-selling self-help travelogue by Elizabeth Gilbert, this is story of one woman learning to love herself, in spite of good-looks and ready access to finance. It’s an overcoming adversity story, except the “adversity” part is a load of bullshit, and Julia has about as much difficulty “overcoming” it as mustard does overcoming a hotdog.
The crunch comes early: when Julia prays to God to help her leave her douchebag husband. He isn’t a wife-beater, or a drunk; he’s just a free-loader. Yet still Julia prays like he was next door, setting fire to her yoga mat. Whatever. God seems poised by the phone that night, as Julia soon gets her wish. She moves in with a younger, sexier free-loader, but, alas, that doesn’t work out. So she comes up with a plan: she will go to Italy, and India, and Bali. Since she was fifteen-years-old she’s dated one hot guy after another, made money, looked after her hair…and never had one minute for herself! To rectify this heinous injustice, she vows to think only of herself for one year (and maybe spare a few thoughts for gelato).
You haven’t really experienced self-absorption until you’ve witnessed the scene in Eat Pray Love where, asked by Julia to say “what you are most grateful for”, a dinner guest tells Julia she’s most grateful for…Julia. And Julia smiles modestly, even though she prompted the f—ing compliment! It’s a bit like the Buddha showing up for lunch and modestly asking “who’s the most awesomely enlightened at the table?” Except that the woman who compliments Julia is basically complimenting her for having the money to take a year off work…and for pigging-out on a twelve-inch Neapolitan pizza (which ain’t exactly like curing Polio). But that’s nothing. That isn’t even to mention the scene where Richard Jenkins confesses that, while drunk, he once almost ran-over his own infant son, and Julia, without shame!, actually equates this man’s total ruin (alcoholism, absent parenting, et al) with her own SNAFUs finding a husband.
All the men Julia meets in Eat Pray Love are the sort of fridge-mold type of guys who hit you up for money to buy their organic sandals. Even the great Javier Bardem is reduced to playing a guy who gives his adult son an open-mouth kiss and weeps like a widow whenever someone steps on his patchouli patch. It’s like Julia wanders the Earth accompanied only by guys with no balls. Billy Crudup, the ex-husband, is such a whiney man-child he might as well wear a little hat with a f—ing propeller on it. James Franco plays the sort of actor who Method-eats his cereal. These guys are the human equivalent of leaf mulch. And yet Julia sobs over each of them…somehow, never quite upset enough to stop dating assholes.
Julia’s character is someone you need to be rich, white and beautiful not to hate. Her problems are so trifling they would shame a kid who complained about problems completing Level 3 on Tetris. She is literally anguished by the thought that she might need a new man. In the “India” segment, they might as well have had Julia crying about men…into the lap of a leper, such is her absolute devotion to ignoring the plight of others. When an elephant walks up to Julia, you half expect it to wail, “Love yourself!”, and for Julia to smile modestly (as ever, calm in the face of no opposition). The idea she needs help to learn how to love herself is like saying bunny rabbits need help to learn how to make three bunnies out of two.
For most of the poor luckless bastards of this Earth, the question “Do I love myself enough?” is insignificant next to other questions, like “Do I have typhoid?”, or “Is that drug addict down the hall going to murder me for a fix?” There are, I’d guess, roughly three billion people who’d give their kidneys to have Julia’s woes. You know ’em, the three billion who make the outfits Julia discards like autumn leaves, who spend their miserable lives dreaming of a twelve-inch Neapolitan pizza, and who die, alone, in dirty hospitals, while Julia frets about whether to do the hunky-chunky with Javier again. These people will not have much truck with Eat Pray Love. (Screw such bromides!) They’ll see it the way the peasants saw Marie Antoinette.