'Eat Pray Love': Julia Roberts's journey to Rome is cliched but delicious

In honor of Julia Robert's new film "Eat Pray Love," based on Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, we look at the locations her character visits: Italy, India and Bali.
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2010; 10:48 AM

One of the first people Elizabeth Gilbert encounters on moving to Rome is her new landlady: an old Italian woman, squat and pimpled, filling a bathtub with a boiling teakettle. Only one thing really matters in life, she lectures Liz: la famiglia!!

Mamma mia!! Bring on the Italian stereotypes.

And the movie "Eat Pray Love" delivers them in spades. There are the derriere-pinching men in the piazzas, the housewives screaming in the outdoor market, the old crones in black - all of which still exist but hardly define current-day Rome.

Struggling to learn the language, Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is taught that Italians are a happy lot (partial to "dolce far niente," the joy of doing nothing). And the proper way of speaking Italian: not just with words, but "con i gesti."

Cue the waving arms!

Still, even with the cliches, Rome is lovingly filmed, a feast for the eyes.

And, of course, for the stomach. Gilbert has moved to Italy as part of her effort to rediscover happiness and wonder. In New York, she had lost her taste for life, cruising on autopilot through an empty marriage.

In Italy, food is her new love. She is seduced by its gorgeousness. The camera lavishes attention on the plates at sunlit trattorias: the pink folds of prosciutto served with sweet figs; a golden fried mozzarella that crunches at the touch of a fork. In a lightly comical moment, Gilbert practically venerates a swirl of spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil. The opera music swells, and a blizzard of Parmesan floats down from above.

The image marks her evolution, her new ability to enjoy food and wine alone - or rather, in her own company.

The photography captures the extraordinary aesthetic sense of Italians; even an item as simple as a fried artichoke becomes a thing of beauty.

Somewhere between the carciofi alla giudia and the gelato, Gilbert begins to lose her uptight New York ways. She grows. Literally: She acquires a "muffin top" above her jeans, and she doesn't care. Off she goes with a friend to buy bigger pants.

"I'm just through with the guilt" of calorie-counting, she cheerfully declares.

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