Sex and the Ashram


Carrie Bradshaw and her gang would no doubt claim Liz Gilbert is the anti-Christ. Yes, these gals are clearly at odds. The mindless Sex and the City brigade clearly thinks with its crotches while strutting about in designer pumps.

While in her bestselling Eat Pray Love, Gilbert, with a lone party dress and, I'm told, great charm, goes on a one-year journey to find herself, learning to think with her heart and not her mind. After a battering divorce and a difficult affair with a "hottie," the travel writer meanders through Italy, India, and Bali in search of a single word with which she can describe herself.

Here's an excerpt from the Italian section of the book: I wish Giovanni would kiss me. 

 Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea. To begin with, Giovanni is ten years younger than I am, and -- like most Italian guys in their twenties -- he still lives with his mother. These facts alone make him an unlikely romantic partner for me, given that I am a professional American woman in my mid-thirties, who has just come through a failed marriage and a devastating, interminable divorce, followed immediately by a passionate love affair that ended in sickening heartbreak. This loss upon loss has left me feeling sad and brittle and about seven thousand years old. Purely 
as a matter of principle I wouldn't inflict my sorry, busted-up old self on the lovely, unsullied Giovanni. Not to mention that I have finally arrived at that age where a woman starts to question whether the wisest way to get over 
the loss of one beautiful brown-eyed young man is indeed to promptly invite another one into her bed. This is why I have been alone for many months now. This is why, in fact, I have decided to spend this entire year in celibacy.

 To which the savvy observer might inquire: "Then why did you come to Italy?"

Having not read any of this book until this very minute, I was ready to condemn the screenplay by director Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt as being a poorly written, plodding self-help manual plastered across the screen that has decimated a much-loved tome, but I can now avow the two's error is that they stayed too close to their source material.

Murphy, who created, directed, and wrote both the TV series Nip/Tuck and Glee, is clearly spreading himself too thin nowadays. His Eat Pray Love lies across the screen like a patient on life support whose ticker is about to tick its last tock. Besides the unflattering camera angles, the often banal music of Dario Marinelli, plus dialogue barely worthy of a sixth-grade Valentine's Day play ("Love is scary. Love is dangerous."), there is no flow here. There's also little that is cinematic. And for a film about the search for a romance intertwined with spirituality, there is little to enrapture or inspire. If this were Gilbert's actual journey, the word she'd find to describe herself is "insipid."

As for the dream cast, you can't get better than Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem, and James Franco, but they are all wasted. Davis languishes in the best friend role, Franco just stands around looking pretty either with a smile or a pout, Bardem has been celibate for a decade, Crudup is plain grating as the self-centered spouse, and Jenkins throws the film off-balance with a monologue about being a drunk, unfit dad back in Texas. Hey, this is Julia's film. Yes, Julia Roberts is Liz Gilbert, and I'm not sure why that made me want to love the film, but it did. Sadly, the winsome Roberts doesn't work her magic here. Her voice, which is often showcased to narrate Gilbert's inner thoughts, is dull as the proverbial dishwater. Her constant weeping is monotonous and ultimately unmoving. And even her puffed-up lips are off-putting.

After a promising first half hour, this project goes into a tailspin with its lack of wit, its half-baked stereotyping of various ethnicities, its sophomoric screenplay, and its unimaginative, pedestrian direction. Perhaps Ryan Murphy's big talent for over-the-top bitchiness and toe-tapping musical numbers on the TV is too small for the big screen.

In fact, the choppiness of Eat Pray Love begs for commercials. Yet, it's hard to argue with the film's messages: Enjoy food without guilt. Don't be afraid of a man rejecting you because of your tummy; few males turn down a naked woman. Don't identify yourself by your job. Don't be wary of losing yourself in an intelligent love. Experience the sweetness of doing absolutely nothing. And God dwells in you as you. It's sort of a puree of National Geographic, the Food Channel, and Spirituality for Idiots. And what's wrong with that?