We see a lot of soul-searching, inner reflection, and spirituality in Eat Pray Love, but it is a rare moment when we actually experience it. I never read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s bestselling novel about her meditative excursion, but I can imagine the author acts like a cipher for wish-fulfillment as we reflect about our own personal life.
In Ryan Murphy‘s adaptation, co-written by Jennifer Salt, we are given Julia Roberts, a charming but ultimately flat character that is difficult to invest in. It’s almost a wonder with such a prolonged runtime and Roberts in every single scene, we never really connect to her beyond us enjoying what she is enjoying; the food, the sights, and the fantastic supporting cast of men. Thankfully, those three areas deliver consistently and I actually found myself in a guilty state of enjoyment throughout most of the film.
The first man we see in Gilbert’s life is Stephen (Billy Crudup). Their marriage is on the rocks, but Crudup never comes off like a guy one would want to divorce. Right off the bat, Roberts makes the rash decision to break it off with no communication to “find herself” and it’s the first of many constant disconnects with her character.
In fleeting instant she is living with David (James Franco), a young aspiring theater actor. Franco is as entertaining as can be in the thin shell of the character he makes up. Unfortunately too much of their relationship is glossed over. Somehow they fall in a deep love in which she is heartbroken over in the months of her journey to come. Then–with no explanation–they are having massive problems and she is sleeping on the floor? I wouldn’t want the movie to run any longer, but something could certainly have been interchanged in favor of explanation.
When the journey finally begins in Italy things start to pick up, mostly thanks to cinematographer Robert Richard. Having worked on Shutter Island and Inglourious Basterds most recently, he gives a vibrant beauty to the surroundings. Whenever Gilbert is complaining about the weight she is gaining or bladder infections, one can at least marvel at the frame.
In this year’s I Am Love, director Luca Guadagnino captures Tilda Switon enjoying food in a way I haven’t seen since Stanley Tucci in Big Night. Ryan Murphy nearly gets it right, with quick-cutting, lavish sequences of top-notch Italian cuisine. Unfortunately after Gilbert leaves Italy–her first stop–she doesn’t do much eating as it’s time for praying in India.
The best part of India isn’t the god worship, but rather Richard Jenkins. He plays Richard, a simpleton from Texas and his performance is far and away the highlight of the film. He is the first man to not fawn over Gilbert, providing some sort of semblance to the breezy affair we’ve been taken on thus far. In what could have been a shameful, emotion-grabbing scene, Jenkins outclasses everyone and delivers a monologue that left me completely devastated. For all the self-realization Gilbert is searching for, it is all too clean-cut and thankfully Jenkins is there to add a damaging moment of truth.
When we finally get to Javier Bardem in Bali, the film has far extended its welcome at what should be the most vital moment, the last step of Love. While Bardem is more than delightful to watch, their love feels like a convenience as she is going back home soon and the film needs to wrap up. I know this is based on a true story, but it would have been much more effective for Gilbert to have learned about life through this whole ordeal and tried to work things out with Crudup, who was devastatingly heartbroken. Then again, I wouldn’t want to put the burden of such a shallow, self-indulgent character like Gilbert on anyone.
There is still enough enjoyable activities and dialogue occurring throughout the adventure that most fans of Gilbert’s memoirs should be satisfied. For a film that was clearly not made for me, I did manage to “let myself go” as the tagline suggests and have a good enough time. If only Murphy could have found a way to actually make the journey with Gilbert one worth taking, the scales may have tipped more on the Love side.
6 out of 10
What did you think of Eat Pray Love?