REVIEW: Eat Pray Love [2010]

“Learn to believe in love again”

The title says it all—Eat Pray Love—a mantra being adopted by women across the globe. I can understand the memoir’s appeal, in a want and desire to achieve an idyllic life and the balance/calm/forgiveness needed to find it, but Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale is a very personal journey. This isn’t some self-help book on scorched earth policy as it pertains to relationships, starting anew and discovering a love for one’s self and the perfect companion only a lifetime of struggle can uncover. It is an account of Gilbert’s cathartic sojourn through Rome, India, and Bali—the eating, praying, and loving coinciding almost too easily with each. I haven’t read her memoir, but if the film adaptation is to be taken at face value, every viewer must know that going to the places she goes and meeting his/her own brand of eccentric sages doesn’t make clarity inevitable. The purpose of Gilbert sharing this yearlong trek is to inspire. You may not need to go across the world to find your happiness, you may have it right here in front of you. The knowledge that it exists becomes the true reward of your resolve.

“Nip/Tuck” and “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy is behind this heavily anticipated cinematic vision of this transcendent piece of literature. I’ll say it right now; the guy has guts to even attempt such a feat. With such a rabid fanbase and the casting of such a recognizable commodity as Julia Roberts to portray Gilbert, the majority of people will be disappointed. I went along with a friend who had completed the story hours before our screening and, while she didn’t love the book, found the film’s choices in excluding some ‘crucial’ scenes to be a detriment. But she did acknowledge the fact that, had she not read the source material, she could see herself really enjoying the film. And I do understand that reaction because Eat Pray Love is a very well made movie with a slew of emotional turmoil and heavy infusion of situations intrinsically common in all romantic beings. I can’t say whether it could have been stronger had more been included—the runtime already exceeds two hours—but I can say that Murphy and writing partner Jennifer Salt appear to have distilled it all down to its necessary core of meditative states and religious depiction of Italian cuisine, albeit a core bred from convenience and coincidence.

But they can’t be held accountable for shortcomings such as fateful meetings and moments of epiphany—Gilbert supposedly went through it all; this is reality. In order to make the whole endeavor palatable to its audience, the stakes must be high and the revelations profound. Here she is, a well-to-do writer married to a dreamer with too many aspirations and not enough drive, who realizes that her life is nowhere near what she wants it to be. Never denying her love for Stephen (Billy Crudup), Liz also can’t shake the fact her staying married to him would be more selfish than letting him go. Say what you will about this story being one woman’s ego-trip vacation, burning all those who love her for hot Latino men in exotic locales, but you’ll be absolutely wrong. Before setting off for Italy, Liz’s last two men were her husband, willing to continue on without love in order to work through it and see what may happen, and an up-and-coming actor (James Franco) who literally tells her that staying together, no matter how distant they’ve grown, would make sure they weren’t alone. If anything, the men were the selfish ones trying to keep her caged in; her letting them go was the only way they too could be free to reach their full potential.

With that out of the way, however, I can see the point of so much vitriol towards the film. People don’t want to believe that their spouse, the person they love and cherish ‘til death do they part, could one day wake up and leave. Whereas a generation ago that occurrence was a rarity, this day and age sees it happen all the time, whether from couples married too young, or love-hungry souls in need of breaking through the monotony of boredom. Either way, divorce is a common thing these days, and while Liz’s entire future hinges on hers, the film itself isn’t necessarily condoning the action. Yes, Christine Hakim’s Wayan is only allowed to function in life through separating from her husband, despite the utter poverty it’s left her in as a result of how taboo divorce is in Bali, and Rushita Singh’s Tulsi is arranged to marry at age sixteen, almost glorifying the ability to end nuptials over the prison a loveless marriage can become. The simple fact it all leads to love again has to count for something, though. The path may be unorthodox and the cast of characters a mixture of good, bad, and strange, but as long as the end resembles some version of ‘happily ever after,’ how could it not be worth it?

I may have issues with the way the film conveniently progresses, starting with an elderly Balinese medicine man Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) telling her she will marry twice, lose her money, and eventually return to train with him—can you say foreshadowing—to the fact she meets at least one person in each country with much bigger problems than she to show how their ability to overcome proves she can too, it somehow always found a way of working. I credit this more to the performances than the story itself, but perhaps the book isn’t as obvious as the abridged version onscreen. Julia Roberts is very good as Gilbert, giving a nuanced performance that’s equal parts joyful, soulful, confident, and lost. She carries every environment (and the locations are gorgeous), event, local color, and transcendent theme to full potential with a stellar supporting cast. Javier Bardem is fantastic as Felipe, a broken soul with too much love to give; Crudup and Franco are exact vessels of men she loves but must leave; and Richard Jenkins is endearing and devastating. Playing Richard from Texas, Jenkins is as close to a mirror Liz finds, a man pushing her to love the universe. His story is heartbreaking and his delivery bracingly authentic. And while it may be but one more plot point of a life more tragic than her own, both Gilbert and we as the audience can listen and absorb knowing that if he can find peace, nothing can stop us from doing the same.

Eat Pray Love 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Julia Roberts as “Liz Gilbert” in Italy in Columbia Pictures’ EAT PRAY LOVE. Photo By: François Duhamel
[2] Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts in Columbia Pictures’ EAT PRAY LOVE. Photo By: François Duhamel


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