A review of the 2010 film “East Pray Love”

Successful American writer Elizabeth Gilbert left an unhappy marriage and an unsatisfying relationship before deciding to spend a year finding herself through travel in Italy (eating), India (praying) and Indonesia (loving). In 2006, she published a chronicle of this year of “spiritual and personal exploration” which has gone on to sell over 12 million copies in over 30 languages. In 2010, this film version came out with Julia Roberts as Gilbert. I didn’t get round to watching it until I was desperate for an uplifting film to divert me from the terrible news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The movie is too long (two and a quarter hours), too light (PG certificate), and – for me at least – too imbued with spirituality, but it is watchable enough. As well as Roberts who gives a sensitive performance, it is full of beautiful people such as Billy Crudup, James Franco and Javier Bardem – who play her lovers – with some fine support from the likes of Viola Davis and Richard Jenkins. And, of course, there is some glorious location shooting in Italy’s Rome, India’s Pataudi, and Indonesia’s Bali. And, finally, there is a happy ending as Elizabeth falls in love.

I can understand Elizabeth’s anguish over her divorce, having undergone two myself, but the whole idea of taking a year to find oneself – financed through a $200,000 advance on a book deal – strikes me as massively self-indulgent. And, after all that food, meditation and sex, did she find herself? 

Well, after her first marriage of 8 years, she married the guy she met in Bali only to split after 9 years. After that she had a commitment ceremony with a female friend dying of cancer followed by a relationship with a mutual male friend that was short lived. I suspect that this is a woman with commitment issues which no amount of spiritual meandering will resolve. She herself has written an article, entitled “Confessions Of A Seduction Addict”, in which she confesses that she has “careened from one intimate entanglement to the next – dozens of them – without so much as a day off between romances”.

So see the film as a very particular effort to find romance without any general lessons on how to find it.

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