Julia Roberts is so beautiful it hurts to look at her.
I've never had a use for that cliche, but it's a fitting description for this very moment in which Julia Roberts is up on the stage before me looking radiantly happy and more beautiful than life. And, I for a host of personal reasons, frankly, am hurting.
Several weeks prior I had been offered the chance to see a preview of Eat Pray Love and attend the taping of Oprah's special with Julia Roberts and Elizabeth Gilbert. I jumped at the chance, not knowing -- how could I have possibly have known? -- that it would fall on the day immediately following my (now former) husband's and my separation. Some might call it an unhappy coincidence that in my distraught state I'd have to sit through hours of discussion about a movie with pain, heartbreak, and divorce at its core.
But I'm used to life being ironic. In fact, I count on it.
I wish I could say that Eat, Pray, Love (I'm talking about the book now) had special meaning for me -- it didn't. Yes, Gilbert is an extraordinary writer. But for me it's a book about a particular woman's particular journey, and try as I might I simply couldn't relate. As it turns out, however, I was a minority in Oprah's studio that day as audience member after audience member rose to tearfully share just how much the book had been a comfort to them through life's challenges and harder challenges.
The only person seemingly not moved by Gilbert's work? Julia Roberts, who surprisingly preferred to talk more about her husband and three kids than she did about the movie she was there to promote. (Oh, but did I mention that she looked absolutely beautiful? As I huddled in my seat and tried to keep it together, I couldn't help but think that she really, really did.)
It's truly astounding to me that Julia could perform so perfectly as Gilbert -- when you see the movie I know you'll agree with that statement -- and yet be so disconnected from the material in real life. Oprah attempted time and time again to get her to talk about the movie; about filming in Italy, India, Bali; about what the book meant to her -- anything to wring even a drop of emotion out of this beautiful, talented actress. But Julia wouldn't budge from her list of favorite topics: namely, her husband, her kids, her Lancome modeling contract, her happiness.
As the interview wore on, I began to sense impatience among the audience members. After all, they had come into the show wearing their hearts on their sleeves, ready and willing to talk about how Eat, Pray, Love helped them overcome their own painful experiences. And no doubt in the spirit of the movie, they expected Julia -- who's had her share of heartbreak, much of it public -- to talk about her own ups and downs while reassuring us that it all turns out perfectly lovely in the end.
Yet here she was babbling on and on about face cream, running half marathons, and sewing kids' clothes? WTF, Julia? I took an effing vacation day for this!
I even caught myself wanting to scream at her from my nosebleed seat -- Hey you! Remember Lyle? Remember Benjamin? You weren't always so happy and grounded! Why don't you talk about that?
And it was then in my desperation that I realized just what I wanted from Julia:
I didn't want her to tell me how many pounds she gained while filming in Italy, what it was like to play Liz Gilbert, how the book changed her life, that hot people have problems, too.
I wanted her to climb up to my row at the top, give me a hug, and tell me that everything was going to be OK -- that my husband really did love me, that my little family wasn't coming undone, that even if I ended up alone now I would eventually live happily ever after with Bradley Cooper and our two pet unicorns. Essentially, I wanted her to say something -- anything -- that would take my pain away. Was that really too much to ask?
Obviously, I was unhinged that day (and admittedly for many, many days after). But when I came back to this planet, I realized that Julia had comforted me -- not when I listened to her prattle on in Oprah's studio that day, but rather when I watched her onscreen the night before.
Julia may not have been willing to visit her dark place in front of Oprah and the rest of us civilians. But in the movie she reaches down deep, deeper, deepest, and pulls out a wonderfully personal, heartbreaking, searching, and ultimately triumphant performance that is a fantastic compliment to Gilbert's brazenly honest memoir.
Some people draw comfort from simply talking about their problems. But what I learned from Julia is that for others finding peace and solace comes from sharing their experience through art -- whether its penning a memoir, starring in a movie, or writing an online article.
I love Julia for teaching me that -- and looking absolutely beautiful all the while.
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