The Hater’s Guide to the Eat, Pray, Love Movie

This summer’s movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” made some grandiose promises.

I’m a woman that traveled the world solo for many years (including to the many of the locations in the film,) and after finally watching “Eat, Pray, Love” I’ve come to the conclusion that it failed to deliver.

From the official synopsis, which claims the film “proves that there really is more than one way to let yourself go and see the world,” to the choice of Julia Roberts as its star, Sony Pictures built up expectations — and then failed to deliver for those who enjoyed the book, for women and for travellers.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it can be summarized thus: unhappy with her marriage and path in life, Elizabeth Gilbert decides to walk away from both and embark on a journey of self-discovery in three separate (and very different) countries.

She regains strength through food by eating her way through Italy, hones her meditation practice and ability to focus while at an ashram in India and, while seeking balance between the eating and the praying, she inadvertently falls in love in Bali.

As someone who enjoyed the Eat, Pray, Love book

Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” was an enjoyable deeply personal memoir. The prose was heartfelt (albeit whiny at times), Gilbert went to great lengths to blame herself for her marriage’s failure without resorting to indulgent platitudes about why it didn’t work and she reiterated throughout the book that this was her journey, not a “how to” for disaffected women. I never understand the criticisms that this is too self-absorbed for travel writing. It’s a memoir, and Gilbert does a fabulous job setting her personal transformation in scenes around the world.

In the movie, Gilbert’s difficult choices seem far too easy.

“I don’t want to be married anymore,” Gilbert announces to her husband as they lay in bed — and suddenly she is on her way to Italy.

Gone is Gilbert’s overwhelming unhappiness with her life in New York and subsequent descent into depression. Gone is any sense that she is taking an enormous leap of faith and doing so alone.

While it is possible to appreciate the sweeping cinematography of green rice terraces in Bali and Rome’s crumbling ruins, it is easy to resent the two-dimensional, awkward storytelling and gaping holes in the plot.

As a woman

This movie does my gender no favours. Setting aside the asinine merchandise tie-ins for a moment (a Lancôme lip gloss set? Really?), it does the most damage via its lingering messages. Finding yourself isn’t difficult after all, because it really means finding a man to rescue you.

And you know what, ladies? He’s an easy person to find — just wait for him to run you over on your bicycle.

Billed as one woman’s solo journey, “Eat, Pray, Love” focuses on everything but those solitary moments.

By ignoring the gloomier aspects of Gilbert’s book and life story, and glossing over the realities of traveling as a woman alone, the movie promulgates the unfortunate stereotype of a whiny, Western woman wanting to find herself without really trying.

In doing so, the “Eat, Pray, Love” film does a big disservice to women everywhere, including the author herself.

As a traveler

Why do we travel? For me, it is to foster a deeper connection to a place through its food and its people. Gilbert’s time in Italy is deeply influenced by the food there and the friends she made. In Bali, her story blends into the lives of a local medicine man and a healer.

And yet, the movie still felt forced at every turn and, with the exception of Gilbert’s relationship with a young Indian girl named Tulsi, the interaction between characters superficial.

Studio execs were checking items off a list. “India? We should include an elephant somewhere.” Big mistake.

Having been to Italy and Indonesia, I expected to feel wistful for their chaos and vibrancy, and to long for the intensity of India. Instead, the movie sapped all of the magic.

Despite the pretty scenery, I was bored out of my mind.

the hater's guide to the eat pray love movie
Photo of a butterfly dining on Balinese offering in Ubud, Bali

While I do think that the original book managed to provide a cohesive narrative of relationship struggles and life choices, the movie was far too simplified and unfortunately did Gilbert no favours at all.


14 thoughts on “The Hater’s Guide to the Eat, Pray, Love Movie”

  1. Congratulations! And I completely agree about “Eat, Pray, Love” the movie. I couldn’t have been more disappointed!

  2. Thanks everyone!

    Aimee: the book was enjoyable, but I think that once it got scooped up by the Oprah zeitgeist it became a Fix Everything This Way manual, and as a result there are hordes of people in Ubud following in Gilbert’s footsteps. I thought her prose did get too flowery and at times I got bored, but as personal memoirs go, I found hers compelling.

  3. Wow – that’s so incredible, Jodi… and you probably got to see the movie for free too! We look forward to reading your future articles, wherever they happen to be posted.

  4. Just read your article having also written one about Eat Pray Love. I lived in bali for 7 months and was there when it was filmed so was curious to watch the movie…it did feel very forced.

  5. @Freedom29: Didn’t get to see the movie for free, but being paid for the article means I can treat it as such :) Thanks for the support!

    @Delia & Happy Trails: glad you enjoyed!

    @Pommie Travels: Definitely a strange sight to now see the tours of Ubud retracing Gilbert’s footsteps. I’d be shocked if she wanted her story to be taken that way, but I suppose that’s what happens when it appeals to the masses.

  6. Haven’t seen the movie…but I did read the book, and my opinion is pretty similar to yours.

    By the way, exactly how many paid articles does it take to travel around the world? ;) Did you keep track of your expenses that closely? (Sorry to be nosy, but I’ve been following your travels for a while and am both rude & curious)

  7. Hi Reba, this article was actually the first income I had since I quit my job in 2008. I saved up for years working to travel, and that was how I paid for my trip around the world. I did track expenses and part of why I am able to travel for as long as I have was that I have stayed in cheaper destinations like Southeast Asia. Thanks for reading!

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