Eat, pray, pick out the dress

The stars and the plots may change, but Hollywood is still serving up the same traditional romantic stories. Just ask Russell Smith.

Maybe Russell Smith isn't entirely to blame. The Globe and Mail columnist---whose rumoured appearance at September's Word on the Street will be interesting---faced the toothy wrath of the internet last week after Smith suggested that Halifax musician Tanya Davis's poetic video "How To Be Alone," was "anti-feminist" and "retrograde." The lovely video, shot and animated by Andrea Dorfman, started out appropriately as a quiet piece about accepting and embracing solitude. The video now has over a million hits on YouTube and comments from both men and women wanting to share their own perspective on loneliness---one of the few conditions that hits every human at least once.

But Smith wasn't buying. He saw Davis' poem as a gender-specific break-up weeper, a Chicken Soup for the Dumped Lady's Soul. Smith suggested that the problem isn't totally with Davis, but with "the culture that upholds it as in some way exemplary of feminine behaviour, as some kind of useful balm for the wounds of a supposedly monolithically married society."

That's a head-scratcher. Maybe Smith was conducting his gender studies reconnaissance in theatres. On Monday night, the Oxford was packed with women out to see Eat Pray Love (note to producers: if you make it, the women will come). First, the preview for Katherine Heigl's Life as We Know It. Heigl will never become rom-com's first lady, but she keeps trying. She co-stars with Josh Duhamel as two singles who become caregivers to their best friends' orphaned baby. We learn from the trailer that her life was an empty merlot glass before she fell in love, inherited a baby and had poo smeared on her face.

Next up, Reese Witherspoon, who deserves a crown for her dazzling resume of romantic comedies. In James L. Brooks' How Do You Know she plays a former athlete torn between Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. "Most girls' plan is to meet a guy, fall in love, have a baby, but I don't know if I have what it takes..." Witherspoon sighs. Guess Reese has no option three in this "supposedly monolithically married society."

And here's Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts, the pretty woman with powers to make Richard Gere into a sympathetic john. A superficial boil of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Roberts is genuinely likeable in a role---a writer who travels the world for a year to find herself after a messy divorce and a failed relationship with a younger man---that a less skilled actor (like Heigl) could have made smug and shrill. Self-realization never looked as tasty as it does in Italy, on a plate of perfectly prepared pasta, or as sexy as open-shirted Javier Bardem on a boat.

Although the biggest problem with both film and book is the blatent fetishization of eastern cultures, we know without Love, no one gives a toss about Eat and Pray. That's why Gilbert's "mental conflicts," as Roberts refers to the author's depression in Entertainment Weekly, were too "complicated" to include in the film. Gilbert does her time alone, pays her dues, gets the man.

In his column Russell Smith suggests that "there is an obsession with romantic commitment in the air again." And maybe he's right, except that Hollywood has always profited from the traditional happy ending. And we keep eating it up, like a Naples pizza, without question.

Perhaps we could all use a little time alone.

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