LYNN: The kick-ass bitch is as contrived as the lovesick chub-queen. I like tragically grotesque heroines: a drunken Joan Crawford, say, imperiously ordering foreigners to mix her a vodka and Pepsi, while exhaling cigarette smoke through her nostrils. Then she pulls out her negligee and hatchet.
AMY: Yes, I'd be pals with Joan over Carrie Bradshaw any day.
JOHANNA: I just can't get a handle on Liz. Like you, Lynn, I still don't understand what she was praying for. I didn't believe in her eating - someone should ban skinny actresses from trying to appeal to regular gals by bemoaning their non-existent muffin tops.
LYNN: I agree about the fake fat, but liked how Roberts let herself look like what she is: a mature, oftentimes dowdy-earthy woman.
There's that scene in Rome when she is lumbering along in a hideous outfit and is almost trampled by boys chasing a beautiful girl - I feel this is a nice reference to the star letting go of her 20-year reign as Pretty Woman, or, at least, a sign of her complicating what it means.
AMY: I agree with you, Lynn. But can I just say that I adore the expression magra-falsa that Felipe (Bardem) uses to praise her: elegant and slender from afar but fleshy and round up close. Bless those Brazilians!
JOHANNA: Greatest. Compliment. Ever. But I want to get back to the idea of a "woman's" story.
Gilbert recently gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly that decried the idea that, no matter how many people responded passionately to her tale, how long it crowned the bestseller lists, and how much money it made, it couldn't actually be any good, because it's "just" a woman's story - and women have no taste. What do you think?
LYNN: Listen to her! As if she is the new Isak Dinesen. More like Sophie Kinsella: Shopaholic Takes the Ashram. I think that Gilbert, having written a pleasing, trashy sort of memoir, is now using politics to defend its artistic merits, which is preposterous.
Consider the Calcutta (Pray) sequence. The only allusion to the systemic oppression of Indian women is an arranged marriage. When the geeky, intellectual young bride-to-be is distraught, Liz prays spiritual gibberish that she and her husband will stare at each other with love. And at the wedding, the bride, now unrecognizable without her glasses and personality, thanks her. This is not a woman's movie, it is a movie about a woman on a blissfully self-indulgent (Think Club Med without the "d") vacation.
AMY: Yeah, sure. But the only thing I'm tempted to complain about is that I'm not the one on it!
JOHANNA: I love it: Club Me, where you can always get a good table for dinner.
Gilbert's story distills my problem with spiritual quests in general: Is trying to be a better person just a really great excuse to think about only yourself all day long?
Plus, remember Liz's opening voice-over? She insists that no matter what hideous travails women go through, the only thing they really want to talk about is the cute boy huddled nearby.
AMY: Don't we all, to some extent?
JOHANNA: Really, do we all? Don't some women actually think higher-minded thoughts, at least occasionally? This is why women's pictures have earned such a bad rap. The goal is only ever one thing: Land a man. The opening voice-over to the first Sex and the City movie rankled me for the same reason. Carrie says something like "Women come to New York in search of labels and love."
Wrong. I went to New York for a career.
LYNN: It is an appalling insult to women (and queer women!) to posit them, always, as boy-crazy half-wits. Simone de Beauvoir was sexually obsessed with Sartre yet she managed to write The Second Sex at the same time. Is multitasking strictly about "Hello! Yoga class! Kids' soccer!" - to cite a recent ad?
This movie distinguishes itself by adding "Pray" to its womanly catalogue of desires. Yet, Liz is in Rome, and manages to convey that the city is a gigantic secular pasta restaurant.