Eat Pray Love (2010) / Drama-Romance

MPAA rated : PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual references and brief nudity
Running time: 133 min.

Cast: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, James Franco, Viola Davis, Mike O'Malley, Hadi Subiyanto, Christine Hakim
Director: Ryan Murphy
Screenplay: Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt (based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert)
Review published January 24, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir (partial thanks to Oprah's persistent raves) provides the basis for this narrative version of her failed marriage and journey of self-discovery during her trip to three separate countries in Europe and Asia (no mention in the film of the book advance she received in order to write about this trip). After going through a bitter divorce, Gilbert (Played by Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War) seeks to get away from it all for a while, starting with a trip to Italy, where she learns to appreciate how to live for the moment, and to eat, eat, eat.  She follows up the gluttony by nourishing her spirituality while in India praying in an ashram.  She ends her journey by finding what might be the love of her life while in Bali.

Ryan Murphy ("Glee", Running with Scissors) directs and co-scripts, along with Jennifer Salt ("American Horror Story", "Nip/Tuck") , filming mostly for aesthetic appeal above the spiritual journey that most might be looking for going in.  At times, Murphy's film seems like part travelogue, as he's keen to highlight the most picturesque portions of each locale, especially during sunrises and sunsets.  With cinematography from Robert Richardson (Shutter Island, Shine a Light), some of the vistas are truly breathtaking, sometimes making us wish that we didn't have to follow the rather shallowly developed storyline that is given too short a shrift most of the time for us to care.

Julia Roberts gets to flash her luminous smile throughout, but it's not nearly enough for audiences to find anything else within her to admire.  While the book contains Gilbert's own observations about love, life, and the road to her own personal happiness, the idealized Elizabeth Gilbert that we see on the screen barely has any scenes of self-reflection at all.  As depicted in this film, she comes across as selfish and self-indulgent, breaking off her marriage seemingly just due to boredom, entering into love affairs that she has no real intention of sticking around in, while all of the men in her life seem to live as if in servitude of her whims and desires.  We rarely get many glimpses of the necessary remorse, regret, or anguish that might spur her on to seeking a way to heal herself, and hopefully find the kind of life she deems worth living, and it does make her character come off as rather loathsome. 

But more than Murphy's emphasis on the beauty of Italy, India and Bali is his obsession with shooting star Roberts as luminously radiant at all times.  This is a woman who wakes up looking like she just had a complete makeover -- even a scene in which she wakes up with a hangover after pulling an all-nighter sees her still looking like a movie star.  Despite putting on 25 lbs. while gorging herself during the "Eat" portion, she could still look like she would rock the cover of Cosmo.  If you haven't already found Gilbert's portrayal in this film as less than relatable due to her egregiously selfish outlook on life, you'll be even more put off by her Pantene-commercial glamour, hating her because she's beautiful, at least when she has Roberts as her representation.

It's the kind of movie in which everyone she meets has wise and pithy things to say that perfectly sums up her life in the moment.  When they aren't spouting pearls of wisdom, they're either telling Gilbert how great she is, and how much they envy her for something or other -- her looks, her talent, her freedom, her utter perfection.  She's able to bag the goofball hunk Billy Crudup (Public Enemies, Watchmen), deep and artistic James Franco (Spider-Man 3, The Dead Girl), and suave and sophisticated Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, No Country for Old Men) with hardly an effort at all on her part -- they're just drawn to her magnificence, like moths to a flame. Is this a story about a woman struggling to find hope after hardship (really, 'first world problems' abound), or is this an infomercial on selling us that witty, wise, and with-not-a-hair-out-of-place Elizabeth Gilbert is the person we need to emulate to be truly happy?  If your occupation is just being photogenic and fabulous, and the universe exists to revolve around you, the world is your oyster!

If you want to find out the story of Gilbert that has inspired women around the world to go on their own personal journeys of self-discovery, read the book.  At least it will give you more of a means to relate to Gilbert as a living, breathing, fully-rounded person that you can see yourself being, instead of this unattainably beautiful, exceedingly erudite daydream whose halo beams from life's infinite possibilities.  This overly long film is more intended as a romanticized travel flick for armchair tourists to soak in the sights and sounds of exotic locations and pretty people, and the only lessons you might learn are that there's more to glean about life from the common sense of normal people around the word than in the narcissistic central depiction of a shallow, perpetually ennui-addled socialite. 

 Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo