In Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts plays a woman who travels around the world for a year to find herself after realizing that the life she was living was not the one she planned. The novel that it's based on has enjoyed world wide popularity. Who hasn't wished to forget their problems in a series of stunning locations? In the film, Julia plays writer Elizabeth Gilbert. After leaving her husband and a failed love affair with a younger man, she takes off to discover the joy of indulgent eating in Italy, peace at an ashram in India and ultimately love in Bali.
Now, I'll admit that no one could consider me a lover of chick flicks. I run screaming from the self help section of the book store...straight into the science fiction/fantasy section. But knowing I was going to be reviewing this film, I grabbed the book, hid it in my beach bag and headed off to where none of my geek friends would see me reading it. And lo and behold, I loved every single page. I read it twice. So it was with great anticipation that I sat in the theater (with a glass of wine...had to honor the first part of the book) waiting to see my beloved book on the big screen.
The film begins in NYC, where we see the breakup of Elizabeth's marriage. Though the film mostly skirted the controversial issue of a woman leaving her marriage because she, gasp, doesn't want to have children, we see two people in a marriage that has lost it's spark. Billy Crudup plays the tossed aside husband, giving him life and an actual personality that was largely missing from the book. (Gilbert states many times that her purpose was not to malign her husband and leaves most of the his details out.) She runs headlong into a relationship with the charming David (James Franco) who folds her delicates and makes her laugh, but can't do anything more than function as a band-aid in her life.
Director Ryan Murphy doesn't burden us with a long, drawn out explanation of what went wrong. In fact, he showed great restraint, only showing us the more important moments from the book and letting his fantastic cast show us the rest with looks and sighs and, well, acting. One moment particularly stood out. In the book, Elizabeth debates whether or not to allow herself to enter a relationship with her language-learning partner in Italy. In the film, we have one brief moment where Julia watches him walk away and the entire debate is right there in her eyes. No explanation necessary.
The Italy sequence was so well shot and edited that I'd decided to move there after ten minutes in. (Not practical, but after listening to a bunch of Italians in a barbershop explain why we Americans are so stressed out and the Italian concept of 'bel far niente', the beauty of doing nothing, you can't help but entertain the idea.) It's clear that Murphy loved this sequence the most and in an interview I did with him for Moviefone.com, he said as much.
The India section of the book was problematic for a number of readers. Why would you leave a place that doesn't care if the delicious pizza you've been shoving down your throat with copious amounts of wine made you gain a few pounds? A place that celebrates indulgence and joy? Why would you subject yourself to less than stellar living conditions and endless chanting? And it seems that Murphy found this a bit perplexing as well. There is little in the second act that gives us a reason. The book explains the meditation and the peace Elizabeth found in it, something that would be difficult to translate on screen. (Though I'd have been happier if he'd trusted Roberts to get that across as well.) Instead, most of her inner work comes from the famous Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) who beats her into submission with bumper sticker-style advice and a brashness she can't ignore. He comes across quite a bit harsher in the film than they way Gilbert wrote him. If you read the book, you get it, but my fellow screeners who hadn't, left the theater saying things like, 'he's kind of obnoxious,' and 'I'd hate to get life lessons from someone so mean.' Still, it's hard not to find something appealing about any character Jenkins plays. His revelation about what brought him to the ashram should secure him a supporting Oscar nod.
Bali couldn't have been more beautiful if you filled it with unicorns. It was gorgeous to look at and it was clear why the real Liz returned here. But in Bali, the book seems to be left by the wayside. Understandably, since the story could have been it's own film, but it starts to look a bit piecemeal. Some bits are left in, like getting her friends to donate money for a house for her medicine woman, but we see so little of it that it seems like a plot to make the trip seem less self-indulgent. That said, it's the relationship...the 'love' from the title that is the main focus. As it should be. Here, Elizabeth meets Filipe (Javier Bardem) who's charm and broken heart melts her resolve not to enter into another relationship. Even more engaging than the chemistry between the two characters is watching these two mesh acting styles. I wanted to applaud technique more than the love story and it made me forget what was left out.
Eat Pray Love is ultimately charming and inspirational. Though it doesn't have quite the impact of the book, it will likely leave you pondering your life choices and forgiving your flaws. It will certainly have you forgiving the few flaws in the film. The performances are just too fantastic, the vistas too lovely to pay too much attention to anything else. Oh, and one more thing. Eat before you see the film or you'll be stopping for pizza on the way home.
Eat Pray Love opens August 13th.
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