Eat Pray Love
- Directed by Ryan Murphy
- Screenplay by Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt
- Starring Julia Roberts, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup and Javier Bardem
Eat Pray Love is a sumptuous new travel, food and self-help show hosted by the always likable Julia Roberts.
Well, what did you think a Hollywood-made adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir would look like?
Director Ryan Murphy - whose previous feature was his adaptation of Augusten Burroughs's memoir Running with Scissors - and co-screenwriter Jennifer Salt strive to capture the tone of Gilbert's chatty-girlfriend literary style but fall back too often on voice-over narration provided by Roberts as the globe-trotting Liz.
They also try to visualize some of the savoury private moments and revelations during the author's inner journey of soul healing. But it's a near-impossible task in a film that must, by its very nature, show us an exterior world and thus hit all the stops - Italy! India! Bali! - on Gilbert's adventure and visit most of the people she met.
Running more than two hours - a very long time for an adaptation of a book without a plot - Eat Pray Love is like an overstuffed lightweight suitcase, with little room for us to feel the emotional connections Liz makes with new friends along the way. Although there are a lot of hugs.
Of course, with Julia Roberts as our constant onscreen companion, the trip has its pleasures. She does some lovely work here, particularly in a few one-on-one scenes with well-cast supporting players who slow down the pace. And she revels in her postcard moments, like eating a tasty breakfast on the floor of a ramshackle Rome apartment or cycling down a country road in Bali.
The film opens with a too-long prologue in which Liz's marriage (Billy Crudup as the restless husband) unravels, followed by a rebound romance with a young actor (James Franco) destined for the same fate. Her publisher pal (Viola Davis) isn't convinced Liz's plan to leave New York for a year - dividing her time equally between the cafés of Rome, an ashram in India and the village of a Balinese medicine man - will solve her problems. We glean that Liz's main issues are that she's a serial monogamist who loses herself in relationships and feels empty inside.
At Liz's final port of call, she literally crashes into Felipe (she on a bike, him in a jeep). Javier Bardem fits the bill as the sexy, still-smarting divorced father of two grown-up kids and generates some genuine warmth with Roberts, although by the time we get to Bali we're starting to get anxious about getting our exit visa.
Roberts's best moments are her scenes with Richard Jenkins (HBO's Six Feet Under), who plays a cantankerous Texan who christens her "Groceries" (she eats a lot) and, despite her initial protests, takes her under his wing at the ashram. He has Liz's number, barking out Dr. Phil-esque life slogans at every turn, but Jenkins lets us know there is real pain just under the surface. When he finally sits down and spills out his story, the movie, for the first and only time, stands still. It's a riveting scene, yet its emotional impact is nearly spoiled by a bit of whimsy the filmmakers follow it up with, showing Liz letting go of her pain.
In the end, Eat Pray Love has to inform us, via Liz's narration, that the lessons of friendship can be just as transformative as meditation and the words of gurus, because all we've just seen is a whole lot of faces and places.
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