The Most Demoralising Reinvention Movies To Watch In The New Year
Eat, Pray, Buy A $2000 Plane Ticket And A Tuscan Villa.
You’ve eaten all the prawns/pork/tofurkey, thrown out the eggnog no one wanted and the candy canes you left in your car are melted into an unsalvageable mess of sugar. You are ready for a new year and a new you.
But, admit it, you have broken 17 of the 23 New Year’s resolutions you made, and it’s only mid-January. Reinvention is hard work, so better ease into it. Here is a list of inspirational films to get you in the mood to make some changes.
Only kidding! Just hate-watch one of the examples, and re-evaluate your decision to overhaul your life every January first. Because you’re a bloody gem. And these films are not representative of real-life, and are full of luck, privilege, and fantasy. Honestly, isn’t that why you (maybe secretly?) like them?
Eat Pray Love (2010)
This is the gold-standard in the travel-to-find-yourself genre, a film based on the best-selling 2006 memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was one in a line of women handed the book while I was travelling, which seemed appropriate, but I remember being disturbed by things that also manifested in the film.
The whole thing seemed very much about privilege and luck, and I found the exploration of spirituality off-putting. In the film version, Julia Roberts’ character fails to come across as the sort of flawed-but-lovable woman that I presume she is meant to be, and is just plain unlikable. Are we really meant to keep believing that this sort of pack-up-and-get-going attitude is feasible for everyone?
Under The Tuscan Sun (2003)
When life is not going your way, what do you do? Buy an Italian villa just because you want to, obviously. Makes that spontaneous trip to Italy seem like small-change, right? But don’t worry about the uncertain financial implications or the real-life hell of renovations, or the fact you don’t speak Italian — these things always work out!
The falling-down house is a metaphor for your emotions, so fixing it up will fix your heart and everything will be rosy again. This is another film based on a 1996 memoir about an extraordinary life. While the risk the author/protagonist Frances took is impressive, it is hard to connect with the way that everything resolves itself, and watching this makes me hyper-aware of how messy life can be.
He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)
What an abysmal movie. In the guise of a rom-com, this film (loosely) ties together a collection of stories about everything you can do wrong re: romance. It is based on the best-selling self-help book of the same name and it shows, with paper-thin characters, no real narrative and a lecturing tone. I managed to dislike the characters and be bored at the same time (with periods of frustration). Also, the film forgot about the comedy part of the rom-com formula, and it is wholly unfunny. I do not understand how this is a ‘feel-good’ viewing experience.
She’s All That (1999)
I had to include a makeover film here, because isn’t this an easy way to change your life? She’s All That is one of those teen films I watched more than a few times — I am a sucker for a dance scene, and this group choreography is fabulous. It’s worth watching just for the cast of ’90s teens: Freddie Prinze Jr, Paul Walker, Rachael Leigh Cook, Usher, Kieran Culkin, Anna Paquin and Matthew Lillard. But I always felt really weird about the plot — Zack makes a bet to turn Laney into the prom queen in six weeks.
Somehow this is lost in the dreaminess of the idea of fate, true love, the power of the makeover, etc. Laney is the apparently an unattractive loser (I’m sorry, are they blind?) who everyone realises is a babe once she takes off her glasses and puts on some lipstick. I mean, styling is everything, right? But when he falls in love with her it is pretty hard to care — she deserves better.
How To Be Single (2016)
This title is so wrong for this film, but I guess it has more appeal than How To Be Boring. Young, gorgeous Alice decides to move to New York to find herself. So far, so bland. She insists on a break from her college boyfriend so she can experience the city as a single woman, and seems shocked when he moves on almost immediately.
She then learns about dating from the ridiculous and self-obsessed Robin, who introduces her to Tom. This is the kind of guy who wants so little to do with dating that he turns off his water to make one night stands go home — what a catch. Lucy is sort of wedged in here as well as a condescending example of how women can ruin their chances of finding True Love by scaring men off with their desperation. This is based on this first novel by Liz Tuccillo, who co-authored He’s Just Not That Into You and wrote several episodes of Sex And The City, which helps to explain the judgmental tone and unbelievable characters.
Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Finding love is high up the list of life changes many people want to make. In rom-com land, when you find someone who you are sure is The One, you do whatever you can to get them. When I put it like that, it comes across more like a plot about a serial killer, right?
Finding The One was obviously a different experience before digital technology became so ubiquitous, and the storyline here is very dated. After hearing the widowed Sam on the radio, Annie develops a long-distance love for him. But this is one-sided, for now. She uses her journalism skills to track him down and learn about his life, which includes flying to Seattle and watching him from afar. This, my friends, is stalking. But they get together at the end, because fate or something, so it is considered cute.
Never Been Kissed (1999)
If you are really unhappy with your life, reinvention is the key. Makeover time! But Never Been Kissed is not just a makeover, it’s a do-over. Josie was unpopular in high school and never got past her teenage persona. But that’s perfect for this frankly ridiculous and very unethical 21 Jump Street style undercover assignment. I mean, re-do high school and everything will fall into place. Never mind that you end up with your teacher who fell in love with you when he thought you were his teenage student.
If you watch this (and, for the record, I am not recommending it) keep an eye out for James Franco in his first feature role.
Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Caveat: I really like this film and the book (I know, the book-to-movie quota in this list is high). But Bridget’s choice to change her life with that diary is kind of terrible. There is nothing wrong with having a journal, or a food diary, or making lists and plans, but every entry includes a tally of the things she wants to change about herself. This is mostly her alcohol, cigarette and calorie intake, but her desire to lose weight is really dominant. Her often awkward and unsuccessful attempts to fit a social ideal are part of her charm, but despite this she gets the job and the man and it’s all tied up nicely.
If you missed the phenomenon of this book-turned-film, you might have been introduced to it in the drawn-out (and frankly, boring) reference in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is a compelling memoir about a dramatic response to grief that is painfully understandable and also envy-inducing.
The film follows the book very closely, and watching Reese Witherspoon throwing her boots over a cliff in frustration is pretty cathartic. I know that there are many people who wish that they could abandon their life, and that is probably why so many connect with the narrative. But realistically, this is not life for most people.
Strayed does point to her lack of responsibilities that allowed her to spend three months on a cross-state hike. If you can take time out, obviously do it. But don’t feel like you can only change your life with grand gestures, and don’t feel bad if you have to keep going in your everyday life even if you feel like you’re drowning.
Phew, that got heavy.
Kate Robertson is not that kind of doctor. She is a part-time academic who also writes on art and culture, and is currently working on a passion project about women in horror.