Eat. Pray. Love . . . Three individually simple and unanimously positive words that, when combined, as in the title of the book by Elizabeth Gilbert and newly released film starring Julia Roberts, conjure up mixed feelings within the yoga community. It’s hard to pinpoint the precise root of these feelings, especially when the book was, by most accounts, well-written and well-received. I suspect our reservations stem from the ongoing dialogue about how yoga’s mushrooming popularity and commercialization makes us feel—a discussion we have on this site often.
“I’m curious because it’s Julia Roberts,” says a friend several weeks before the movie debuts. “If it were, say, Jennifer Aniston, I would NOT see Eat, Pray, Love. And I like Jennifer Aniston, but I would already know what kind of movie I was getting, and—no, thank you.”
With this statement, my friend (who happens to be from India, where a portion of the book and film take place) summarizes the precarious task of taking a heartfelt and hilarious spiritual memoir and turning it into Sex and the City for the yoga set. The girls-night premier parties, product tie-ins (Fresh cosmetics released a line of fragrances in conjunction with the movie; they include—wait for it—Eat, Pray, and Love), and oodles of coverage in the media all suggested that the film adaptation might be nothing more than a spiritually bereft and trite “chick flick.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t Jennifer Aniston, a lovely and infinitely likable comedic actress but one lacking the depth of Julia Roberts, and it wasn’t Sex and the City for the yoga set. It just wasn’t that great of a movie.
It was entertaining, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t rock my om gal world. I liked it most after the first 1/3 of the film, which was slow and clumsy. I recall Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartbreak in the beginning of the book as being more potent, with the subsequent pilgrimage to Italy, India, and Bali legitimized by the level of that heartbreak and her determination to heal. Moreover, Gilbert’s craft (writing) was more prevalent in the book, and it was evident she intended to write about her travels from the start. Without this underlying objective, the movie bordered on self-indulgent at times. How many newly divorced people can afford to heal their broken hearts by vacating all responsibilities for a year and taking a soul-searching sabbatical around the globe? When a laptop finally made an appearance more than an hour into the film, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then again, I’m a writer, so it’s possible this didn’t bother anyone else . . .
The absence of yoga, in asana form, bothered some. Alas, not me. I rejoiced in seeing nary a poorly aligned yoga pose or Hollywood orchestrated yoga class in the film. Even if executed well, a yoga practice in Eat, Pray, Love might be too obvious or, worse, kitschy. And it doesn’t hurt to show a Western audience that there’s more to spirituality in India (and yoga as a whole) than the tricky yoga poses featured in chick flicks such as: The Next Best Thing (Madonna), What Women Want, Spanglish (Tea Leoni), Failure to Launch . . . Do I need to keep going?
For some, the film not only didn’t rock their worlds; it pissed them off thoroughly. Ask our pal David Romanelli about the response he got from heterosexual male friends when he suggested they see the film together and get some “fro-yo” afterward. Peruse some of the critiques, comments, and blogs online, and you’ll find that people describe Eat, Pray, Love as everything from "fickle," to "insufferable," to "racist."
I disagree with the harshness of these reviews; I liked the movie and found it charming, albeit a tad bland and unfulfilling (not the food, though; the food in Italy looked exquisite). I walked away feeling entertained, which is I think the point of going to the movies, no? It’s a visually alluring story of heartbreak, friendship, forgiveness, and love, peppered with some male eye candy (hello, James Franco) and infused with a few spiritual nuggets (though not as compelling or complex as the book).
Wait a second . . . maybe it is a chick flick? Maybe I’m OK with that.