The weekend before last, Eat, Pray, Love finally opened in cinemas in Thailand. I had been planning to go see the movie on my own for some time. After all, the movie is about a solo female traveler. (Well, it’s actually about a female traveler who’s solo for all of eight months until she lands a hot Brazilian to make her not-so-solo anymore… but still). I thought it was fitting that I, a solo female traveler, would go see it solo. (Of course, if I were to glean a few tips on how I, too, could end up not-so-solo with a hot Brazilian boyfriend of my own, I wouldn’t mind that very much either).
The other reason why I had been planning to go see it on my own was because I was afraid to invite my friends along. I wasn’t afraid that they wouldn’t want to go. (I mean, come on, a night out at the movies with yours truly?! Who wouldn’t be up for something like that?).
I was afraid they wouldn’t like it.
The film has been out in the States since August, which means I’ve seen more than a few reviews about it on news websites and other travel blogs. Most of these reviews have not been what you might call “supportive”. In fact, I’d say almost all the reviews I’ve read would better be described as “scathing”. The movie has been called boring and whiny and a “true story that feels fake.” Given all the criticism I had heard about the movie, I was afraid my friends in Chiang Mai would also be critical of it.
It’s not as if I didn’t understand the criticism. I had read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert over three years ago, right after I moved to Japan. Despite admiring Gilbert’s writing style, I had plenty of my own issues with the book. Like many readers, I enjoyed the first section about Italy. Then I got kind of weirded out by some of the God stuff in the India section and, by the Bali section, I was just plain annoyed. I was angry that a book being heralded as “one woman’s tale of self-discovery” ended tritely with her discovering a new boyfriend. It just seemed too much like a fairy tale.
I didn’t care that the story was real. I wasn’t buying it.
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book, I had high hopes for the movie. You see, I expect some kind of credibility from the books I read, but I don’t expect my movies to resemble real-life. In fact, I’d rather they not. I don’t go to the movies to see how life is, I go to the movies to see how life could be.
I don’t merely suspend disbelief for the two hours that I sit in the cinema numbly shoveling popcorn into my face; I completely erase disbelief from my mind (along with reason… and any health concerns I might have about eating a tub of popcorn the size of an Olympic swimming pool).
I believe in all movies, but I’m particularly credulous when it comes to cheesy movies. In fact, the cheesier the movie, the more prone I am to fall for every dubious plot twist and harebrained scenario.
If a movie wants me to believe that Kevin Costner would build a baseball field in Iowa because the voices in his cornfield told him to do so, then I believe it. If Hollywood wants me to think that Drew Barrymore has never been kissed and Steve Carell has never had sex, then I’m game. Blonde hottie Katherine Heigl and slumpy, dumpy Seth Rogan? Okay, if you say so, Knocked Up.
Thanks to movies, I believe that on any given day you can wake up fifteen years older than you were the day before or you can wake up fifteen years younger than you were the day before or you can wake up in the day before. I believe that you can find true love on a road trip or on the radio or in a chatroom or while stalking your ex-boyfriend (or pretty much anywhere if you happen to be Meg Ryan). I believe that dance is the universal language spoken by uptight white girls and bad boys from the wrong side of the tracks. I believe hookers have hearts of gold. I believe you can dig your way out of prison. I believe even clunky, frizzy-haired girls can marry men who look like John Corbett (Oh, please tell me this is true, as I could beat Nia Vardalos at her clunky-and-frizzy game any day of the week!).
It’s odd that I’m able fall hook-line-and-Sandra-Bullock for any unlikely scenario as long as it’s in the plotline of a cheesy movie — especially, considering I grew up in a family of cinema skeptics.
Once I made the mistake of going to see the movie musical, Dream Girls, with my older sister. For two hours I had to listen to her sigh and scoff every time one of the characters should break out into song. “Whatever. People don’t do that,” she’d whisper under her breath, “People don’t just drop everything they’re doing and start singing like that.” To which I’d hiss back, “People may not, but Beyonce sure does!”
My mother, in particular, is very vocal about her mistrust of movies. Should you watch a film with her, you can expect to be treated to a barrage of protests. Her favorite retort is something along the lines of: “Yeah right. It doesn’t happen like that.” Whether the “it” she speaks of is marriage or parenting or alien abduction matters little. What matters is that she makes it clear that she isn’t about to be duped.
You know those movie birthing scenes where the movie doctor pulls out a plump, twenty-pound bruiser of a baby delicately smeared in something resembling strawberry jam and tries to pass it off as a newborn? Should one of those scenes happen across the screen while my mother is watching, she won’t let it go without a fight. She’ll snort loudly and snicker, “Who do they think they’re fooling? That’s not a newborn. I know newborns and that’s no newborn.” She’ll eye the imposter infant apprehensively, as if she suspects it is in on the scam. Then, she’ll calculate its age and weight with the eerie accuracy of someone who does, in fact, “know newborns.”
Should she be in the cinema watching a movie when one of these not-so-new newborns pops up or an equally incredulous act appears on the screen, my mother will announce her suspicions loud enough for the entire audience and, quite possibly, the director in Hollywood to hear. Should you accidentally make the mistake of defending the movie or pleading, “Mom, please, it’s just a movie,” it’s just as likely that she might turn on you. “Well then, fine, be that way,” she’ll say — suggesting it’s perfectly okay with her if you want to be deceived into believing such drivel, but she’s not about to let some wily movie director pull the wool over her eyes.
Long ago, I started going to movies on my own. This allows me to sit in my own cozy bubble of silent, non-questioning belief. (This also means I don’t have to share my popcorn – which is a good thing since my movie companion would have a hard time fitting his or her hand into my popcorn bucket… what with my face immersed in the top of the tub and all).
Despite my penchant for solo, silent movie-viewing and my fear of what other people might have to say about my movie selection, I invited my friends along with me to see Eat, Pray, Love. In fact, I didn’t just call up a few friends and see if they wanted to go to the movies with me. I posted an invitation on Facebook. On the day of the event, eight women in total showed up, including three people I’d never even met before.
This, I worried, was asking for trouble… and a whole bunch of moviegoer backtalk. As we filed into the cinema, I turned around to the gaggle of ladies behind me and informed them that they weren’t allowed to say anything bad about the movie.
I forgot to mention that they were, actually, not allowed to say anything at all – which is how I ended up listening to a running commentary of the entire film from my friend sitting next to me. She cheered on Elizabeth Gilbert, as played by Julia Roberts, when she decided to ditch her boyfriend and travel around the world. She oohed and aahed over the food in the Italy section. She compared the India in the film to the India she had seen when she took a trip there herself a few years ago. She sighed over the beauty of Bali. By the end of the movie, I couldn’t tell where Julia Roberts’ voiceover ended and my friends movie-going monologue began.
Oddly, though, I didn’t mind. In fact, I wanted to join in… but not so much in a supportive way — more like in a my Mom kind of way.
You see, I wasn’t buying it.
First of all, there was the matter of her wardrobe – like the fact that she actually had one! I mean, the woman only had one duffel bag, yet she never wore a single outfit more than once. In Italy, she cuddled up in cozy turtleneck sweaters and what she called her “big girl” jeans (which in my book would be called my “never going to happen in my lifetime unless I stop eating all together” jeans). In India, she flounces around in flowy cotton shirts and harem pants. In Bali, it was seersucker blazers and smart linen trousers with closed-toe shoes. I don’t know how all those outfits fit into that measly duffle bag – but it had involve either an act of God or extreme physics… or possibly she borrowed luggage from Mary Poppins.
I’ve been traveling for nine months with the same three pairs of pants. It’s not that I particularly enjoy wearing the same pants everyday (especially since these pants have started to attract flies and wild dogs). It’s just that this is all my luggage will allow. When my mom sent me three more pairs of pants in the mail last week, I felt decadent. I’m also worried that I’ll have to wear my new pants wrapped around my neck as makeshift scarves when I leave Chiang Mai as I won’t have enough room for them in my bag. I don’t own any jeans – they’re too heavy, too hard to wash and don’t have the ability to magically expand with my waistline. As for wearing closed-toe shoes in the tropics? Whatever. People don’t do that.
It wasn’t just the movie wardrobe that seemed so incredible to me, but the whole movie. Everything turned out so well for Elizabeth Gilbert in the end: she sorted herself out, she got happy and she got a new boyfriend. To top everything off: she landed herself a huge book deal.
“Yeah, right,” I wanted to snort, “It doesn’t happen like that.”
Of course, it did happen like that — for Elizabeth Gilbert. It just hasn’t happened like that — for me.
If anything, I’m less sorted out now then when I started off on this trip. When I began I had an exact plan: I’d take a year to travel around Asia, hitting six countries along the way. I was going to volunteer, house-sit and teach English – whatever I had to do to stay rent-free and within my measly budget. Then, I’d head home and start looking for a “real job.” Of course, I’d have to promptly quit that job as soon as I landed my big book deal and would have to go on my book tour. But, I’m sure, my “real job” employers would understand… after all, it’s hard to balance a full-time job with regular appearances on Oprah.
Well, It’s been nine months, and I’ve managed to hit a grand total of three countries. After deciding I needed a place of my own for a bit, I opted for my own apartment in Chiang Mai and I’m paying rent. As a result, I’m rapidly running out of money. Either I’m going to have to get a “real job” real soon or I’m going to have sell a vital organ… or two.
As for the book, well, that hasn’t exactly sorted itself out either. First of all, to write a book, I’d actually have to, well, write. Sure, I manage a few blog posts now and then. But, I’m not exactly pounding out a novel. (Although, I’m sure it could be argued that a few of my blog posts could rival a novel in length). Heck, I haven’t even been a very consistent blog writer since moving to Chiang Mai – especially since most of my days consist of eating cookies and watching Law & Order… this is not exactly blog-worthy material.
Plus, from what I understand after reading more than my fair share of books, a book needs this thing called a turning point – you know, a big, significant moment.
It just hasn’t happened like that — for me.
I’ve had lots little moments – a sun-filled second, a laugh shared with my students, a good conversation with someone I’ve just met, the wind in my hair as I hang on tight to my friend’s motorbike, a moment of peace, a smile from a child, an extra orange added to my bag by the fruit lady at the market.
None of these have been big. But they’ve all been significant.
That’s just the way it’s happened – for me.