Eat Pray Love is a breezy, leisurely travelogue that is held together by one woman’s search for enlightenment. Directed and co-written [with Jennifer Salt] by Ryan Murphy [Glee, Nip/Tuck], this is a movie that looks great – check out the panoramic looks at Italy, India and Bali – has a mostly easy to take script, and features an amazing cast. So, why am I of two minds on it?
Well, the woman who searches for enlightenment us Liz Gilbert [Julia Roberts], a successful travel writer who, one day, decides she wants a divorce from an unfocused dreamer [Billy Crudup] – for no discernable reason [I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how closely the film hews to it]. While separated, she begins an affair with a hot young actor [James Franco] – whom she leaves – again, for no really apparent reason.
Because of something she was told by a medicine man in Bali, while researching a book on the country, she decides to drop everything and travel for a year – to Italy for the food; to India for the spirituality, and to Bali to learn everything the medicine man knows. Did I mention she signed away every dime she had in the divorce? So, she’s embarking on this world tour in search of enlightenment while apparently broke. I know that the advance on the book – she pitched a book on finding enlightenment to fund that book – was how she could afford it, but no mention of that is made in the movie, though her publisher [an grossly underused Viola Davis] does make an appearance.
Although Eat Pray Love is entertaining enough, it’s the omissions that make it hard to swallow as anything more than the flimsiest diversion. There are probably more sentences beginning with the word “I” than I’ve ever encountered in any movie – and ninety-nine percent of those sentences are uttered by Liz, either in her narration or in actual dialogue. The woman is selfish, maybe even a bit fatuous or even disingenuous. The one thing that keeps her from being a complete drag is that she’s honest – she admits to being selfish [it doesn’t matter that it’s in a roundabout way – all that matters is that she admits it].
For parts of her journey, she puts the work in. In Italy, she eats spaghetti in Rome and pizza in Naples – all while making a group of new friends through a chance encounter with a fellow visitor named Sofi [Tuva Novotny]. In India, she studies at an ashram where she has to earn her keep with hard work [scrubbing floors]. In Bali, though, she sloughs off anything remotely looking like work – sneaking pages of medicine man Ketut’s [Hadi Subiyanto] to a copier instead of doing it in the traditional manner – by hand.
The most interesting characters she meets come in India, where she meets Richard From Texas [Richard Jenkins] – a wiseass wise guy who speaks “bumper sticker” and steals every scene he’s in, and in Bali [Ketut, of course]. It’s instructive, I suppose, that her two instances of unselfishness come on behalf of a young Indian girl who faces an arranged marriage, and a Balinese healer named Wayan [Christine Hakim].
It’s a shame that none of the three men in her romantic life have much to work with [though Crudup gets a funny bit at the table as he tries to represent himself in the divorce]. Essentially, in the case of the movie, they exist more as plot points than anything else – and Javier Bardem practically snoozes through the last act as Liz’s new love [and threat to her newfound balance], Felipe. It’s a good thing that Bardem at rest is more fun than most actors at full speed.
If you don’t take Eat Pray Love seriously, it’s entertaining. It only really falls apart if examine it too closely [like I did]. The weird thing is, even though there’s so much here that it should be hard to like, Roberts, Jenkins, Subiyanto and Bardem – and all that great scenery – somehow manage to make everything tolerable.
Final Grade: B-