The new Julia Roberts movie, Eat Pray Love, came out this weekend. While it’s largely getting not-so-good reviews, Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times asks “What does this say about U.S. manhood: Male critics actually like ‘Eat Pray Love’:
In short, once you factor in that the guys outnumber the women in the critical trade, the women who liked the movie (including my colleague, Betsy Sharkey, who gave it a favorable review) only made up a slightly higher percentage than the men who liked the movie. What does this mean? You be the judge? Maybe Julia Roberts gave the film credibility with a sizable percentage of men? Maybe guys like chick flicks more than they let on? Or maybe male movie critics are simply more sensitive souls than the average U.S. male?
I don’t recall male movie critiques having anything nice to say about most chick flicks, which inclines me to rule out the last supposition in that list. But what, then? One commenter says it just means the genders aren’t as neatly boxed-in as the industry thinks – that women like action films and men like “chick flicks” and the industry needs to stop desperately trying to stereotype us.
Another commenter,Alison Gang, a female critic for the San Diego Tribune, says:
I disliked “Eat Pray Love” because it turned Liz Gilbert the writer, who showed some depth and complexity that I actually recognized from real life, into just another shallow female lead who babbles about her love woes and calorie consumption. I liked the book because the voice was genuine and, therefore, likable, despite the writer’s obvious privilege.
The film did exactly what most mainstream movies do – turn women into easier-to-get-a-handle-on caricatures instead of the complex, human beings we actually are. Can you say male fantasy? (Yes, even for male critics.)
That’s an interesting theory. The only problem is: most movies reduce women to caricatures, particularly movies targeting men. Women in action films are, for the most part, so thoroughly reduced as to not threaten eleven-year-old boys. And women in “chick flicks”? The very reason I can’t stand that genre is that the vast majority of its female characters seem only to think about dieting, shoes and romance, which are three topics I do not consider interesting enough for a movie, let alone a human viewpoint.
By the way, I read an interview with Julia Roberts in a doctor’s waiting room recently (probably Entertainment – sorry, can’t remember, and had to put it down and go in before I could take down details) in which she explained that they intentionally reduced some of the book’s complexity, because it was very hard to put across the author’s genuine depression in a movie format without suggesting that real depression can be cured by eating pizza in Italy. It may not be a popular decision with movie-goers, but perhaps it was a responsible one?
So why are male critics and female critics roughly in agreement about this movie? Could it simply be that it simply isn’t really a “chick flick” at all, and men have been giving each other permission to watch Julia Roberts movies for years without risking teasing? “Chick flicks” are generally stocked with plots like “Princess Vapid finds the perfect shoe; love with Prince Vapid ensues.” There’s no self-discovery in that, but if Eat Pray Love goes a little deeper – which wouldn’t be difficult, even with the restrictions Roberts felt they needed to put on issues requiring more than a small chunk of two hours – could it simply be that men respond to classic dramatic themes even without the benefit of explosions and boobies?