Here is what Eat, Pray, Love is about: Julia Roberts (she cannot be anything but Julia Roberts) is a successful travel writer with a house, a million bucks, and a handsome husband. Naturally, she is also paralyzed by abject sorrow: “I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life. So why didn’t I see myself in any of it?” She dumps the spouse and embarks on a year-long tripartite journey to find her stupid fucking privileged self.
First up is “eat,” which takes place in Rome. There are only three kinds of people in Rome: old Italian ladies stuffed with wisdom like wrinkly brown manicottis, sexy young ladies who do nothing but eat figs sensually with a knife and fork, and really really hot dudes. Opera music plays while Julia Roberts shovels spaghetti into her orgasm face. Julia Roberts buys “big lady jeans” so she can fit more pizza in there. “Let me teach YOU a word,” says Julia Roberts to her really really hot Italian tutor. She holds up a carafe of wine. “THERAPIST.” Har har.
The second stop is “pray,” in which Julia Roberts travels to tres-exotic India to live at an Ashram and complain a bunch. While there, she gets mosquito bites and learns about the horror of arranged marriage. She ultimately concludes that she needs to “forgive herself”—for what I have no idea. She has literally done nothing but go on vacation and eat spaghetti.
The third and final chapter is “love,” which brings Julia Roberts to the EVEN EXOTICKER shores of Bali. In Bali, she becomes BFFs with a wacky toothless medicine man, meditates some more, gets a bladder infection, and meets her dream man—a fitting finale to a movie all about how you don’t need a husband to be happy as long as you have spaghetti. (Pro tip: It turns out you do!!!) At one point, Javier Bardem runs her over with his car. That part was okay.
Now. I am not opposed to women “finding” themselves. I am not anti-spaghetti. Ladies, feel free to continue appreciating the little things in life and savoring the moment and dreaming of cuddles with Javier Bardem (I love him too). And you know what? Objectively, Eat, Pray, Love isn’t even that BAD as cotton-candy chick flicks go. But the unexamined privilege, the idealization/exotification of all places east, the canned spirituality, the sensual goddamn spaghetti—it’s all so focus-group-tested and Oprah approved and self-perpetuating and embarrassing that I just want to go and hide in an Ashram somewhere and suck on figs forever. And who knows? Maybe I’ll finally find a husband! Not that it matters. (Oh, but it does!!! It DOES.)
[A related must-read from Bitch Magazine, which nails down the problems with Elizabeth Gilbert’s source material (which they dub “priv-lit”) much more eloquently than I could:
Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial. Should its consumers fail, the genre holds them accountable for not being ready to get serious, not “wanting it” enough, or not putting themselves first, while offering no real solutions for the astronomically high tariffs—both financial and social—that exclude all but the most fortunate among us from participating.
You should read the whole thing.]