There’s a long tradition of stories involving women feeling trapped by marriage and finding a way out. Gustave Flaubert created a scandal in the mid 19th century with Madame Bovary, telling of a woman’s adulterous affairs as a means of escaping her tedious marriage to a dull doctor. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening offered its heroine watery suicide as her only life-affirming option. But in this century, the story that has gripped the public imagination is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, the film adaptation of which premieres this month on Movies On Demand.
Academy Award winner Julia Roberts stars as Liz, a woman who had it all — successful career, lovely home, devoted husband. Everything, in short, but happiness. After a difficult divorce, she decides to take a round-the-world journey in search of herself, heading first to Italy to rediscover her passion for life, next to India to heal her spirit, and finally to Bali to complete her journey of self-discovery by learning to love again.
If you missed its Oprah moment or otherwise haven’t heard of the book or film, yes, it’s very much aimed at the female demographic. Specifically, it’s aimed at the women out there who may find themselves in similar circumstances and in need of a rejuvenating elixir of life, of sorts. Julia Roberts inhabits Liz with appropriate uncertainty, fear and anxiety for any woman taking a life-altering step, and gives her the sparkle and sense of rediscovery needed on the big screen. It’s not an Oscar-contending role, but it’s the role of an Everywoman for the 21st century, and Roberts is the right woman for the part.
While it’s easy to see the appeal of a film like this — gorgeously shot on location, with its sense of liberation, self-examination and some semblance of spirituality — it’s not without its problems. A story in which a woman has the luxury of taking a year for travel and self-discovery might seem a bit excessive and hard to relate to in our current economy. Equally troublesome is the frequent observation that if the protagonist were a man ditching an adoring wife for another woman and skipping around the world, it’s not hard to see how differently it would be received.
But this is a film about righting the wrongs in one’s life, and the audience it reaches will appreciate that regardless of its flaws. Not everyone may have the means, internally or externally, to do as Liz does, but just as the book inspired many of its readers, Roberts’ portrayal is poised to do the same.
“Eat Pray Love” is now showing on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
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