It would be difficult to deny that Eat Pray Love, the new Ryan Murphy helmed film that stars Julia Roberts as a woman on a year-long journey of self-discovery, is a flawed film.
It bears repeating. Eat Pray Love is a flawed film.
At 133 minutes in length, Eat Pray Love starts to wear out its good will well within the film's two-hour mark.
Eat Pray Love features pop theology, grandiose Oprah-like platitudes, bumper sticker sentimentality and what may very well be the worst cinematic lighting in a wide-release in 2010 that very nearly ruins such exotic locales as Los Angeles, Bali, India and Italy.
Convinced that I hated the film?
Despite everything, Eat Pray Love is an immensely entertaining, occasionally inspiring and genuinely feel good film that remains surprisingly faithful to the source material, a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert based upon her own experiences.
Julia Roberts is Gilbert, a highly successful travel writer with a seemingly idyllic life that she sculpted who finds herself ditching her less than ambitious husband of a year (Billy Crudup) and losing everything in the divorce.
Actually, Gilbert must not lose everything since after a period of floundering she concocts a plan to spend a year either finding herself or losing herself by spending 4 months in Italy eating, 4 months in India praying and 4 months in Bali following up on an earlier visit with a shaman-type (Hadi Subiyanto) and attempting to meld all of her spiritual lessons into a reasonably functional, peaceful human being.
I've lost everything before. Usually, it involves eating mac n' cheese, wearing the same clothing on multiple days and living in my car. I suppose, in hindsight, I could have tried to take my car to Bali.
Who'd have thunk it?
Lapses in logic and romanticized enlightenment aside, however, Julia Roberts is well within her element as Gilbert, a rather sparkly blend of adventurous spirit, social butterfly, self-absorbed seeker and faux emotive wounded soul. Eat Pray Love doesn't so much require Roberts to have tremendous range, though she does exhibit a widened ability to venture into darker spaces, but the film does require Roberts to look beautiful, act "ordinary," flash those stunningly beautiful eyes as a display of vulnerability and to convincingly communicate Mr. Obvious moments of spirituality with absolute conviction.
Fans of the book Eat Pray Love will most likely be ecstatic with Glee creator Ryan Murphy's adaptation of Gilbert's writing, an adaptation that remains largely faithful to the book despite obviously having to trim down the material lest we be in the theatre for a few hours. Much like the book itself, Eat Pray Love is likely to play more successfully to a female audience though the males in the Indianapolis promo screening who provided feedback almost uniformly considered the film to be a tolerable or enjoyable "chick flick."
Eat Pray Love is arguably more satisfying in Gilbert's first stop on her year long journey, a four-month stint in Italy that finds her quickly bonding with Sofi (Tuva Novotny), a beautiful young woman seemingly on a similar journey, and a small group of locals who manage to give her a genuine sense of community that gives this segment a rather authentic emotional resonance that is largely non-existent in the next two segments.
Ask most readers of Eat Pray Love to name their favorite character from the book, and many of them will cite Richard, an irascible and cantankerous Texan who is at the India-based ashram where Gilbert visits following her departure from Italy. Played by the delightful Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) here, Richard's character here feels muted when compared to the extensive character development he receives in the book. Here, Richard seems to primarily exist as a checkpoint for Gilbert's enlightment and to spew forth trival eastern philosophy that is so fundamental that it makes the 10 Commandments read like Shakespeare.
While the scene in India may wax fundamental, the cinematic duo of Richard Jenkins and and Julia Roberts provides the entire scenario with an emotional substance that allows the dialogue to grow beyond its fundamental nature.
The film winds down as Gilbert returns to Bali, where she'd first received insight that her life needed to change and she returns the scene to follow through on a commitment to the shaman and to attempt to bring together all her lessons into a neat and tidy package. Of course, it helps when that package is represented by Javier Bardem, whose presence in Bali is symbolic of his own life journey, shortcomings, aspirations and growing enlightenment. The film benefits from the convincing pairing of Bardem and Roberts, both of whom mine tremendous humanity from their characters with tremendous results.
The cinematic Eat Pray Love wraps it all up infinitely tighter and neater than does Gilbert's book, however, kudos to Murphy and co-screenwriter Jennifer Salt for balancing the obligatory Hollywood ending with an awareness that the love that Gilbert discovers is a love that redefines how she exists in relationship and how she does so without abandoning herself. It's a difficult balance but, for the most part, Eat Pray Love manages to find it.
While photographing a film such as Eat Pray Love isn't particularly the most grueling task known to a D.P., vet Robert Richardson nicely captures the film's exotic locales while largely holding on to the film's more intimate scenes. While the exotic locales are captured fine, Richardson's camera work appears too often to work in conjunction with a lighting design that offers Roberts a distracting halo effect in which her hair seemingly glows in scene after scene...an effect that is untrue for any other cast member.
Dario Marianelli's original score is a wonder of journey and discovery, while the production design of Bill Groom nicely complements the well stated goals at each stop of Gilbert's journey.
The film's remaining supporting players aren't given nearly as much to do, though Viola Davis redeems herself quite nicely and Billy Crudup manages to elicit tremendous sympathy as Gilbert's first husband. James Franco, as a younger man and relatively brief diversion for Gilbert post-divorce, is the only one here who really doesn't quite register convincingly. While Franco certainly fits the bill physically, his chemistry with Roberts is minimal and a television conversation between he and Gilbert later in the film feels forced and lacking in the emotional conviction necessary to truly make the scene about closure.
As much as it may sound like this review is hyper-critical of Eat Pray Love, it bears emphasizing that the film manages to work, satisfy and entertain despite a myriad of problems that would have sunk a lesser cast and director. Eat Pray Love is one of those films that, should the box-office stars align themselves, is relatively critic proof with its intertwining of quintessential Julia Roberts and a story that is tremendously meaningful and popular with Gilbert's legion of readers.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic