Although it’s awesome to see that Julia Roberts hasn’t done anything drastic to her face and that her smile is still intact, the Academy Award winner has a hard time squeezing out real tears in the “I’m-finally-leaving-my-husband-who-is gorgeous-but-just-not-for-me” scene or in the “Drive, drive!” scene as she ditches her hunky, bad-acting boyfriend on a stoop all alone. Tears would have meant even more bad acting. In a world with dropping Dows and exponential unemployment, Liz’s third-of-life crisis seem less urgent, less real. But is it?
A good friend bought me Gilbert’s book in 2007 for my 27th birthday. I remember it mostly because no one buys presents anymore and because she put it directly into my hands and said, “This will be good for you; just get past the first 50 pages.” I did. And it was. Reading about a woman’s personal quest for enlightenment in my late 20s seemed scholastic, but seeing it on the big screen was sort of boring and, honestly, a bit self-indulgent.
Until — and forgive me from stealing from Oprah, whose audience will love this movie — the “Aha!” moment. For me it was before Liz left on her odyssey overseas. It was before the next hour and 50 minutes of whining and bike riding. I didn’t need all the scenery porn in Italy, India and Bali to finally get why Liz ran from her so-called real life like a college kid. She wanted to be the girl.
“Okay, okay, I pick one. I pick you,” Mr. Liz Gilbert (played by Billy Crudup) shouts from across the divorce table after Liz accuses him of never choosing a dream. What must it feel like to be a woman to whom a man’s dreams are pinned? Perhaps that pressure was just too much for Liz (I know it would be for me). Liz doesn’t want to be the husband. She doesn’t want to be the responsible one. Growing apart is one thing, growing up is another and growing into someone else is unnerving.
Much has been made of the fairly recent alpha woman/beta man scenario in which the wife brings home most of the bacon, and instead of frying it up in a pan, the husband orders in dinner, using her credit card. The cover story of this month’s Atlantic magazine announces, “The End of Men,” in a report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way and its vast cultural consequences. My good friend Erica Kennedy wrote a novel, Feminista, which tracks 30-year-old feminist-fashionista Sydney Zimora, who, despite appearing put together, has a breakdown around page 352. Said breakdown can be summed up as this: I want someone to take care of me. I want to be the girl!
Being a modern woman is nothing like what Ann-Margaret would have us believe in Bye Bye Birdie when she sang, “How lovely to be a woman, the wait was well worthwhile. How lovely to wear mascara and smile a woman’s smile.” In Eat Pray Love, Liz is told to smile from her liver by a toothless Balinese medicine man. She doesn’t learn to truly do so until a real man shows up to claim her.
“You don’t need a man; you need a champion!” says Felipe, Liz’s third and final lover. From the beginning of the end, it’s clear that this is her man. He is world-traveler tan, with an accent that sounds better than yours. He is the man who throws Liz’s hard-won balance off and into the throes of passion. In the final scenes of the film, she must decide whether to really let go and be the girl or tighten the chains around her newfound muchness. That sounds like less of a white-girl problem and more like some of mine.