Director: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco
Runtime: 133 Minutes
As a reviewer, I feel obliged to point out that this film is… only alright. So-so. Watchable. As a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love however, it happens that I enjoyed this film and, as with the paperback version, left just a little bit in love with its protagonist. Its basic premise follows writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) as she attempts to rediscover herself after a messy divorce; travelling to Italy to ‘eat’ gluttonously and simply ingratiate herself in the culture and its pleasures, learning how to love life guiltlessly; to India to ‘pray’ and find inner peace at an Ashram; and finally to Bali where she attempts to balance the two and eventually finds ‘love’.
The Indian portion of the film is perhaps its most noteworthy: it’s largely a two-hander, with Roberts playing off Richard Jenkins, as ‘Richard from Texas’, in a highly compelling performance that probably lends the film its most credible moments.
The story, however, just works better as a book, and maybe it should have been adapted as a mini-series instead. Even at a long, occasionally dragging 133 minutes, Eat Pray Love cuts corners. It readily jumps from country to country without the explanations we’d expect from our travel writer heroine. We may know where we are from the scenery, and the sweeping landscapes are stunning, but the film often suffers from looking too much like a glorified picture-book. The authorial narrative heard throughout the film only ever hints at the kind of self-reflection Liz is undertaking, and is symptomatic of the film’s severe lack of emotional depth – just where has Gilbert’s analysis gone?
This film was always going to be a money-spinner though; it’s basic maths. Best-selling book lauded by the likes of Oprah Winfrey made into a film with Julia Roberts = mega-bucks blockbuster. Sadly, but inevitably, this inhibits the film. Though she’s largely a good casting choice, Roberts looks far too glamorous to have been meditating all day or shovelling menu-loads of pasta down her cakehole. The men in her life seem too much in awe of her, as if to have been dumped by her were a great honour. This lacks the authenticity of the original book, and the deep bitterness of Liz’s divorce is a notable absence from the film version.
The story is otherwise incredibly faithful to Gilbert’s memoir, with the vast majority of lines simply lifted from its text. In total, there must have been only three or four minutes of the entire film that I didn’t recognise as hailing from the book. It’s also just nice to see this much of Roberts again. After a string of minor turns, it’s comforting to know that she hasn’t lost one iota of the onscreen charm and grace that made her Hollywood’s biggest female star a decade or so ago.
Buy the book, fall in love with it and learn to care about Liz Gilbert and her story… then rent the DVD; it might just be the only way to really appreciate this movie.