Eat, Pray, Eat Again

June 17th, 2011 at 6:23 pm | 1 Comment |

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In the film Bridesmaids, there is a scene in which Kristen Wiig, after snubbing a kind-hearted man vying for her romantic attention, feels guilty for it. So what does she do? She bakes a beautifully ornate cupcake — and then proceeds to devour it immediately. This laborious scene lasts a only few minutes which, in comparison to Hollywood’s latest offerings, is mercifully short. Does this signify that we are nearing the end of a terrible trend in the film industry — one that constantly connects female happiness to food?

Food is no longer a theme in the cooking-show sense of the word, where a movie, such as Julie & Julia is about cooking and little more, or it makes its appearance in passing as physical sustenance. Rather, it seems that food has morphed into a symbol of “spiritual” sustenance. We see this therapeutic aspect briefly in the aforementioned Bridesmaids, but almost entirely in Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts’s latest attempt to inundate the movie-going masses with phoney messages of the soul, and what it truly means to be happy.

The movie does this with panoramic zooms of exotic locales (where joy is always just around the corner!), and seemingly incessant shots of the degustation of “goodhearted” food prepared by “goodhearted” people such as smoked eggplant and ricotta, and pappardelle with rabbit ragu.

In the course of “finding herself” after a divorce, Julia Roberts — after a (thankfully) brief dalliance with James Franco’s character, a humming, drumming Buddhist — leaves Manhattan for Rome.

The film then drowns the viewer with shot after shot of fresh greens being chopped up, homemade pasta being strained, and laughing conversation over interminable meals. Roberts’ character, Elizabeth, proceeds to find her identity not so much in any spiritual or emotional revelation, but more in the various rustic dishes she enjoys. Contentment lies, as she tells a friend, in gaining weight if it makes them happy. And if we are what we eat, then Elizabeth is a plate of linguine.

This isn’t the first time such a message is set forth. In the 2009 Italian film, I Am Love, Tilda Swinton’s character — again, a middle-aged woman — is faced with the fact that her family is changing, and she has no control over this; the family company is being passed down, her children have grown up and are getting married. So what does she do? She takes on a younger lover, one who also happens to be a chef. After having sex, they partake in the supposedly uniting ritual of cooking.

What is it about food, cooking, and women of a certain age? For the female characters in Bridesmaids, I Am Love and Eat Pray Love—and also with Meryl Streep, in It’s Complicated-- cooking acts as the only refuge in a time of emergency. It allows the woman to create something, and then decide its fate immediately by eating it, or having it eaten. She has full control, while the rest of her life is a tangled, independent mess where nothing is certain, allowing her, the “time to murder and create,” as Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Why attempt to take charge of life, when one can take charge of the kitchen? It might be easier to wipe down a granite counter-top than tears off a face, but regardless, this is the newly-masked sexism in film, and it would be a shame for viewers to think that these are independent women, while in fact they are the weakly veiled representations of the housewife from years gone by, something which women have striven so hard to escape, and yet, now accept as the ideal.

But if that shortened cupcake scene in Bridesmaids is anything to go by, it’s that films are veering away from the literal food-for-thought motif.  Let’s hope that Hollywood will choose something a bit more interesting than a pastry as the way to a happy, fulfilling life.

Recent Posts by Daniel Alexandre Portoraro

One Comment so far ↓

  • Primrose

    I think there is a vast difference between what Eat, Pray, Love is saying, which is allowing a woman of a certain age to take pleasure in food an not simply see it as an enemy, and the traditional women binging neurotically on some foodstuff and then feeling terrible about it.

    I haven’t seen that film but I have seen that scene in endless movies and I dont’ get it. I’ve never eaten like that and I am not one of the thinner set of people. I too am disturbed by the idea that women would rather eat compulsively (not for pleasure) than eBe with men. As if our relationships with men have to be like that cupcake.

    Ick. But I don’t think women have ever been able to look to Hollywood and sexism in anything better than, not as sexist as before, perhaps.