If you happen to have an ounce of cynicism in your body, avoid this like the plague, because for the cynics amongst you, Eat Pray Love will no doubt be the most self-indulgent film you will see all year. But for those who are truly romantics at heart, one woman’s pretty looking journey across the colourful globe to find the meaning of life, searching for a true connection, will be something to marvel at. Is she brave for venturing out into the world, following her dreams? Or is she simply deluding herself into a materialistic journey? Are the problems in her life that serious?
Liz (Julia Roberts) is a middle-aged woman going through a divorce after disastrous years of trying to make her marriage work and is looking for some sort of consolation from a much younger man (James Franco). But the love affair is cooling off significantly, and she is once again left alone, bored and unenthusiastic about life. She needs a change of scenery, and being a travel writer, she decides to take an entire year out to do some effective soul-searching.
Before we are able to see Julia Roberts going on the rather expensive-looking trip, however, the film needs to establish that Liz is leading a miserable existence. This is where the casting of Roberts really pays off. Roberts, being the international superstar that she is, does not disappoint, with her subtle glances of sadness and vulnerability setting an effective tone at the beginning of the film. She has spent years worrying about her future, and now she needs fun.
And it’s a timeout to die for. In Rome she decides to stop worrying about gaining weight. She’s in Italy, there are sumptuous dishes of pizza and pasta and she is not about to let a few pounds stop her from enjoying the endless amount of fantastic food that is on offer. There’s a particularly memorable scene where Roberts tucks into a rather simple looking spaghetti pomodoro, which in fact, turns out to be amazing. Accompanied by “Der Hölle Rache,” the famous Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the scene will make your tummy growl as Roberts finds a brief moment of true happiness with that plate of spaghetti.
Then she’s off to India, where she stays in a Hindu temple, finding peace, praying, connecting with God. But being new to all of this, it’s not easy to sit still, pause, and meditate for hours and hours. She meets a friendly old man from Texas, Richard (Richard Jenkins), who helps her get rid of the burdens that are pressing down on her shoulders. Jenkins provides the only stand-out supporting performance and in one intimate scene that is handled perfectly by the actor, his monologue will tug at the heartstrings. The friendship between the two is often humourous as well as deeply moving, and a lot of credit should go to Jenkins.
Good-looking men surround Gilbert in Bali. She almost hooks up with a much younger man, but the one that threatens to steal her heart is the conveniently divorced Felipe (Javier Bardem), whose business apparently lets him be wherever he wants to be (his words). So the audience is confused later, when he also goes on to say that his business is in Bali, so he cannot leave with Gilbert when she eventually plans to. Other than that slight hiccup, Felipe seems to be the perfect man for her. Gilbert took this trip to be away from complications, to liberate herself, but it appears she needs a man after all to keep her happy.
It’s hard to adapt a book that relies heavily on internal monologue. Eat Pray Love is based on an enormously popular bestseller written by Elizabeth Gilbert whose autobiography was an instant hit for the readers and, despite the excessive use of voiceovers, the film fails to show any depth relating to this woman’s year-long journey. It has a lengthy running time, but spends very little bit of it explaining to us just how some of the events occur. The disjointed feel is partly the editor’s fault, but the careless script should share the blame. She’s praying. What about? She connects with God. How? She finds Balance. Again, how? The soul-searching; did she succeed? Was Felipe it? The calm, soothing voice of Roberts, along with some philosophical elements try to give clever answers to the many questions that have been raised. But because director Ryan Murphy is so focused on showing the beautiful, breathtaking aspect of her adventure, all that Eat Pray Love boils down to is nothing but a shallow travelogue with a fantastic leading actress but not much else.