There's several ways one can attempt to deal with an unfulfilling, disconnected life.
One could eat as many carbohydrates as physically possible. One could turn to religion to find a deeper purpose in life. Or one could try to love again -- oneself, or others.
Writer Liz Gilbert spent four months on each solution following her divorce, a journey chronicled in her 2006 memoir of self-discovery and soul searching, "Eat, Pray, Love."
Gilbert (played in the film version of the story by Julia Roberts) is a seemingly successful, happy person who doesn't feel particularly successful or happy. She's not content in her marriage to her unfocused husband (Billy Crudup). Looking through the family pictures filling her living room, she realizes she's never had a part in her life, although she was obviously there for it all.
After inviting her hubby to travel to Aruba for a travel story she was working on, he turns to her in bed and says, "I don't want to go to Aruba."
Her response? "I don't want to be married."
After determining a "rebound" relationship with a hot young actor isn't the answer to her problems, she's off on a yearlong journey to eat in Italy, pray in India and love in Bali.
Italy is full of "doing nothing," as the Italians tell her all Americans could do more of. Instead of working ourselves to the bone with 14-hour work days and rewarding ourselves with a six-pack, we should recognize that we have no clue how to enjoy ourselves, and in the process, life.
How to enjoy oneself? With food, of course. Lots of it.
When a friend suggests that binging is not the way to solve life's problems, Gilbert tells her she's going to eat the pizza in front of her, drink beer and watch soccer at the bar, and then buy a bigger pair of jeans the next morning — "muffin tops" be damned.
With extreme closeup shots of Roberts twirling spaghetti with her fork and slurping it into her mouth, the "eat" part of the movie plays out like a feminine version of the wine-drinking pals in "Sideways" with less laughs and more carbs.
And honestly, "Eat Pray Love" could have been a better movie were it called "Eat Pray Laugh." I realize finding yourself can be serious business, but sometimes laughing at yourself can yield decent results, as I understand. This lack of fun becomes only more noticeable as our heroine moves on to India, where she learns to meditate while sitting in awkward positions for hours on end.
The thing about meditating and sitting in awkward positions for hours on end is it's a lot more rewarding if you're the one actually doing these acts. If forced to watch them, as the audience is here, it's a bit of a buzzkill, especially when placed in the middle of a two-hour, 15-minute long movie. If Gilbert's mind is wandering during meditation, it's hard to imagine the audience not doing the same.
Fortunately, "Eat Pray Love" never goes too long without throwing bits of life wisdom at the audience, most of which seem to have some kernels of truth in them. Those who have read the widely beloved book should be pleased — even if the pleasure stems mainly from the surprise that the book doesn't butcher the story nearly as bad as they might have suspected.
In Bali, Gilberts looks to conquer the toughest challenge of them all: love. Through the wisdom of a toothless medicine man, she finds common ground with another divorcee played by Javier Bardem. Together, they learn to open their hearts to the possibility of loving -- again, first themselves and then each other.
"Eat Pray Love" should appeal to those (particularly women perhaps, but men could do a lot worse than being dragged to this one — take it from someone who was forced to sit through "Sex and the City 2") who have been through some rough spots in life, persevered and come out stronger people as a result.
Joel Sensenig is news editor of the Review Times. He routinely risks "muffin tops" in the name of good pizza.