JOHANNA: I think it all started with that book cover: the clean white background, the simplicity of the words eat, pray, love formed, respectively, out of pasta, prayer beads and orchid petals. New York journalist Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of the year she spent living in Italy, India and Bali, searching for food, God, herself - and ultimately, a new boyfriend - looked like something you wanted to eat.
Pretty soon it was something you couldn't avoid: The book, which hit No. 1 in the spring of 2007, sold eight million copies in the U.S. alone. It was discussed on every chat show, including Oprah's. Travel companies touted Eat Pray Love tours. Tourism in Bali, in particular, jumped radically. Writer Andrew Gottlieb penned a guy's-view parody, called Drink Play F@#k, which Warner Bros. is developing for Steve Carell.
And now that EPL is a glossy movie starring Julia Roberts, it's really unavoidable, from billboards and TV ads to merchandise tie-ins. Even the Home Shopping Network is hawking EPL wares.
So what's this all about? What did you think of the book?
LYNN: It feels too much like a journalist's con: Eat, Pray, Huge Advance.
AMY: I didn't fall in love with it. Not even close (although full disclosure: I skipped many parts).
LYNN: I remember that Jesus is very chatty in it. In the movie, that, and obvious diarrheal scenes, are muted.
JOHANNA: I'm thankful for both those omissions. What do we think of the movie?
LYNN: The movie is hypnotic, like taking a trip - which will be a great relief to those of us whom God does not send to Balinese paradise.
AMY: I was excited to see Eat Pray Love on the big screen because I love Julia Roberts so much and it's been a while since we've seen her in this type of film ( Valentine's Day does not count). Post-screening, though, I can't make up my mind.
On the one hand, I found it played up the schmaltz - from the music to the stock characters. On the other, five words: Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. I think there was a point where I stopped watching the movie as an adaptation of the book and just resigned myself to the idea of it being a delicious two-hour escape.
JOHANNA: Two hours plus, and about an hour of that is swoony montages - you get your travel-points' worth. It is completely gorgeous, and I was thankful that a gay man, Ryan Murphy (whose work includes Nip/Tuck, Running with Scissors and Glee - all very stylized) directed it, because the men in it were outrageously appealing: Billy Crudup as Liz's husband (his lack of ambition causes her to leave him, setting the plot in motion); James Franco as an actor she has an affair with; and Bardem as the love she finds in Bali. The whole thing was like the Hunk Olympics: Billy with the bronze; James gets the silver; and Javier - pure gold.
But what do you think the EPL phenom is all about on a deeper level? Why has Gilbert's adventure struck such a chord, and especially in women?
LYNN: It appeals to so many women because it's filled with simple answers to solipsistic questions. Everyone keeps urging Liz to "forgive yourself!" Why? The premise is opaque: What has she done, besides leave a very hot Billy Crudup?
JOHANNA: For a movie that's purportedly about "getting to know your true self," I actually got to know very little about Liz. It was all too remote for me. I never cried, for example, and I cry at TV commercials.
AMY: I did find her moment of desperation a bit absurd. I mean, here she is with an attractive, doting husband who wants to have her babies.
JOHANNA: I usually love a prickly heroine, and resent it that most "women's stories" revolve around tragedy. I want a kick-ass bitch who does what she wants.