Eat Pray Love, critical

Reviews are supposed to be 'balanced' and 'fair' (as in the page  Eat Pray Love, balanced ), but that does not exclude the idea that reviewers should honestly state that they think that what is being reviewed is bad... or awful... or disastrous. Indeed, we have more respect for reviewers whose judgements run the full range from "brilliant!" to "terrible" - we are more likely to think of them as honest.

This page contains two reviews of Eat Pray Love by the BBC film critic Mark Kermode  ("outspoken, opinionated, and never lost for words"), whose view of the film is that it is "rubbish".

Review #1 - The first text is a transcript of one of Kermode's twice-weekly video blogs. Unfortunately, the original video has been archived by the BBC, and so is no longer available - a pity, because it was a useful exercise in listening comprehension.

However, I still have the transcript, which is particularly worth studying because it is a classic example of the use of irony. Seeing the words in writing will make it easier to discuss with the students how irony is achieved - even if this lacks the added dimension that the intonation and expression of the spoken word can give.

Review #2 - While the first text is really the most useful because of the emphasis on irony, you could complement it by showing the students this short video of Mark Kermode, in the process of savaging the film in a radio discussion on Radio 5 Live.

This mainly consists of a rather manic monologue by Kermode, improvising sarcastic, witty and acute criticisms not just of Eat Pray Love, but of various other superficial films. Note the word 'manic' - probably only quite able students will be able to follow, so see this as an optional extra, entertaining as it is.

Review #1 text

Below is the full transcript of Kermode's video talk. Note that I have coloured patches of the text, and added Pop-up comments which you can see by placing the cursor on the little icons  .

Hello viewers. I'd like to talk to you about a film which I saw recently which touched me, which moved me and which quite possibly changed me and I think it might change you too. It's the new film starring Julia Roberts. It's called 'Eat Pray Love' and it's based on a best-selling story about a rich, over-privileged, healthy American, living in a lovely house, who decides that the pain of existence is just too much and decides to go off for a year around the world to discover herself, and in her journey she learns an important lesson - that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Think about it .

Now, watching the film really made me want to read the book. Not the original book, of course, that would be far too much like hard work  , but this - the press book which is given out at screening to tell journalists what to say  about the film.

Here are some comments from some of the people who made this movie. This from the director: " I think that it's a very specific and very visual story but in a way it's appealing because it's a universal story that can apply to anybody. " It's so true. Which of us can honestly say that we couldn't afford to take a year off work to go to Rome, to go to India, to go to Bali, to eat, drink, be merry and have sex with Javier Bardem on a beach without worrying about our credit card bills. Huh! Could happen to all of us  but it just happened to happen to the person in this story.

There are other gems in here as well. Listen to this, because I think this speaks to all of us.
The director says, " I love the scene in Rome where Julia spends the afternoon on the floor, eating a perfect meal. I think that in my day to day life I try to savour the little experiences and try not to have an outcome to the day. That's what I learned on a personal level, being part of this project."

Well, I learned something too as well. During the course of the movie, Julia loves to enjoy food - we see loads of Julia eating food, she eats spaghetti, she eats Indian food, she drinks, she encourages her friend to embrace her muffin-top because she actually says 'weight doesn't matter'. Interestingly enough, Julia seems to stay a size six all the way through the movie despite all the eating of food that she does.

But then I realised that actually there's an implied word in that title. To me, and I hope to you, the film will always be 'Eat, Pray, Love, Vomit'.

Handout

You can give this out to your students: it provides the full text, with some guiding questions.

  Kermode EPL transcript   

The touch of irony

We should start by being clear what we mean by 'irony'. Irony is applied when we realise that the literal meaning of the words used turns out not be the real meaning, or what we are expected to understand. In effect, the audience is expected to do a kind of double-take - "Hang on... those words suggested that, but these latest words suggest this: something completely different, even opposite".

Effective irony has to be subtle, but clear. The literal, apparent, or 'fake', meaning has to be developed seriously and credibly ... but then there has to be a clear and significant moment when the signal is given 'this is ironic'. I also always aim to make a clear distinction between 'irony' and 'sarcasm' - that sarcasm is always critical and aggressive, while irony simply involves reversal: negative means positive, and positive means negative.

Guiding questions

The handout has four questions which should guide the students to first of all detect that there is irony, and then read carefully to work out how they have formed that impression from the words in the text have been deployed.

Here are the questions, with some notes.

? Is he impressed by the film? Or not?

One would hope that everyone will say 'not impressed', if only because of the word 'Vomit' right at the end! However, many will not be able to reflect effectively, and say why they think so - they will need to be taken through the text carefully, reflecting on the literal/apparent meanings of various phrases.

? Which parts of the language of the speech suggest that he is impressed? Which parts suggest that he is not impressed?  (Give precise quotations from the transcript.)

Work through the text methodically, asking them to look out for possible contradictions and/or double meanings. You may use the Pop-up notes that I have provided in the text above. With any luck, by the time you have got half way through the text, most will have begun to pick out ironic usage effectively.

? What are the two possible meanings of the fourth word added to the title?

I suggest (1) that Julia stays a slim size six because she vomits up all the food she is seen eating: bulimia; and/or (2) the whole film will make thinking people vomit.

? At which point do we decide that he is being ironic? How exactly is the irony made apparent?

Discuss this with the students - probably somewhere in the first paragraph? But where exactly? For me, it's the phrase "the pain of existence" coming so soon after all the details about "rich...lovely house" - a moment's critical thinking ought to say that there's something incongruous here!

Review #2 recording

Kermode in action

Here is Mark Kermode speaking about the same film, in a BBC Radio 5 Live discussion.

The same attitude to the film, but presented in different ways...

Detecting irony in the spoken word is often easier than detecting it in the written word. This is because the literal tone of a voice usually communicates more directly than 'tone' in writing - written 'tone' depends on being informed about expected style, and then being able to detect variations from those expectations. The recording is useful because Kermode's way of speaking is very expressive, and it is pretty obvious that he is being humorous... sardonic... sarcastic - what he says is very often not to be taken literally, but rather, ironically.

However, it is also worth remembering that tone of voice itself depends on conventions of spoken communication, and it cannot necessarily be expected that a learner of a language is aware of those conventions, and how to handle them. Aggressive intonation may be apparent to anyone ... but what happens when the aggressiveness is itself an ironic imitation for jokey reasons? "You stupid bastard" might actually mean "I am astonished and grateful for your amazingly generous present" !

Links

>  Eat Pray Love, balanced  ... an online review which makes an effort at a balanced assessment of the film - perhaps a useful corrective to Kermode's breezy polemic ...

> Short People   ... Randy Newman song which is strongly ironic - although some people didn't get the irony ... comes with article about the impact of the song + online comments, commented ...

 
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