It’s quite ironic that Eat Pray Love, the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, is being pegged as “boring” or “uneventful.” It is in these very qualities—the estimations of our immediate perceptions, or reactions from a persistent quest for superficial gratification—that the film cautions against placing value. Rather, Eat Pray Love champions soul-searching in quiet spaces and, ultimately, everyday places.
To uncover this truth, however, writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) must depart from the everyday. She divorces her husband of eight years (Billy Crudup), leaving behind an unfulfilling daily routine to embark on a journey of self-reflection and personal discovery. First, a rebound romance (and a wholly unnecessary story segment) with a younger man (James Franco); then, the title’s promise: eating in Italy, prayer in India, and love, finally, in Bali, Indonesia.
Each chapter moves along leisurely yet gracefully, handled with care and precision by director Ryan Murphy. The pace is deliberately slow, and the impact is slow to coalesce. Neither Murphy’s direction nor his script, penned in tandem with Jennifer Salt, assaults with life lessons or teachable moments, and Liz’s journey is overseen by a certain self-awareness—a proper suspicion in its own premise—that prevents the story from feeling preachy or didactic. It’s refreshing that a film is able convey a point of view without pounding us over the head or intruding on our own sensibilities.
The weight of Eat Pray Love is never obvious, but it does ever-so-slowly seep into the edges of the frame, like the heavenly aura of sunlight poking through cracks in ancient walls, or the fuzzy glow of headlights reflected in bubbles of rain on a car’s windshield, or feathery parmesan flakes floating toward a destination of noodles.
On a few occasions, a swirl of present motion morphs into a memory for Liz: a memory of her life pre-sabbatical, often involving her now ex-husband. Here we can apply the pleasant pull of the present to the gentle, even joyful tug of the past. The mere proposition, entirely underutilized by the film, of stepping back into the real world, of examining the deficits of a former existence, is stirring—disquieting as much as it is quietly depicted.
Too quiet, perhaps, are the simple pleasures stacked throughout the film. Murphy handles the material so carefully that at times he seems hesitant to tackle anything that could prove even slightly jarring. Liz befriends a man from Texas while practicing prayer in India, and when he, named Richard and portrayed by a sensitive Richard Jenkins, describes his falling-out with his family back home, we see him only from the side. It’s as if Murphy was afraid that Richard Jenkins’ distraught face might crack the camera lens. A lengthy catharsis is muted, and a potential power chord is wasted.
Similarly, the film doesn’t get too specific about the sticky situation that drove Liz away from her former life. An anxious gaze, an unnerving atmosphere, and words—Liz’s admission of discontent—are all we have to go on. (Indeed, we witness most of the film’s events—the desires, the transformations, and the general goings-on—but seldom do we feel them.)
It’s a good thing, then, that we are in the company of so many trusting faces: Viola Davis and Mike O’Malley as Liz’s friends and a functional married pair, the aforementioned Billy Crudup, James Franco, and Richard Jenkins, an eventual lover in Javier Bardem, and, lest we should forget, Ms. Roberts herself.
Julia Roberts carries the film elegantly and effortlessly. Did we expect anything less? There is never any question that she (or Liz, for that matter) is entirely committed to the journey. Though the role does not require too much from her beyond the skill of slight gesture and subtle expression, the far-too-few times she is allowed to further extend herself, Roberts’ ear-to-ear grin and infectious cackle reignite the screen.
That’s not to say the flame of the film ever truly dies: it’s a slow burn that flickers occasionally, offering gentle insight but lacking the punch of resonance. And even though the film is a tad too long and relies a bit too often on mainstream machinations—caricaturized local players, pizza and pasta (and not much else) in Italy, and an M.I.A. song heralding our arrival in India—it’s hard to come down too hard on something so sensibly crafted with such good intentions.
Directed by Ryan Murphy. Written by Ryan Murphy & Jennifer Salt. Rated PG-13 (a light PG-13) for brief strong language (very brief), some sexual references (very slight) and male rear nudity (one, maybe two, nude rears). Runtime is 2 hours, 13 minutes.
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I was fearful to see this movie – and yet headed out the day of its release to see it. I love the book and couldn’t see how a movie could do it justice. The movie was touching and relayed the important messages from the book beautifully. Nicely done. I agree it was a little slow. I would have loved more raw emotion at the start (as her despair at the beginning of the book was very powerful). And, yes, we could have skipped the rebound relationship in the movie. I also wanted to see more about her struggles with meditation – and maybe more voice-over (ugh) to reach her inner dialogue. Can’t wait to read it and see it again. Nice review.
John Ueng says
Oh, yeah? Blah-Blah-Blah…If a movie is “boring” and “unenetful”, guess what? That’s exactly what it is! Bucko! It’s a movie! It is SUPPOSED TO be interesting and entertaining! And this one definitely is not. I just came back from seeing it at the Rave in LA, and I literally fell asleep one-third way into the movie…I’ve never fell asleep in a movie before. If it were not because I went with another person, I would have walked out and spared myself of the other 2/3 of the movie that just went on and on…What a disappointment! I was expecting it to be at least decently entertaining…Boy! It failed even that by a long shot! If you’re a gluten for self-punishment, then take the risk of seeing it. Otherwise, do your soul-searching elsewhere. This one will only make you regret you boought the large popcorn…”for this?!”
In response to John’s comment…you are intitled BUT I would not expect a guy to GET this movie! For all the ladies who have read the book and can relate to the author even a little I think will fully enjoy the movie. Girls dont take your husbands or boyfirends unless they are in touch with their feminine side or are a bit more evolved spiritually. Simple guys wont get it.
Wow, I sure am relieved to have all of you “spiritually evolved” women out there to help me get through this life. Reading Stieg Larson novels, drinking herbal tea and getting chinese characters tatooed on your ankle doesn’t make you “spiritually evolved.” Get off your high horse you narcisist. Maybe us neaderthal men just have a better capacity to understand what really sucks. And yes that does include this movie.
In response to April’s comment, I have to agree with John…boring is as boring does. I am a “Spiritually evolved” female and that film taught me NOTHING!! If you’re really spiritually evolved I don’t see how you could have gleaned anything from this movie….it was all talk and no action. It was faaar less than SPIRITUALITY 101. I’m so sorry that I wasted my hard earned dough on his movie, talk about overhype. There wasn’t much eating either…I expected far more. The only interesting part of this movie was the alluring Javier Bardem and beautiful Bali. This movie did more for Bali that any tourism brochure. I hope they’re prepared for an onslaught of tourists.
george miko says
There was many middle aged and older woman in the theatre I was one of the only men with my nephew and friend a female, we all found the movie was a good adventure into the spirit and senses and recommend it to those of like mind. Not a chick flick but close.
John Ueng says
In all fairness, my sister who also saw it said the book was much better, and it’s hard to jam all the details from the book into a 2-hour-plus (yes! It was that long or felt like it.) movie. So, it’s not the story, it’s how it was presented.
John Ueng says
Check out this review, by a woman (Theda)!
“I thought “Eat, Love, Pray” was a little boring and uninspiring. It was cliche-ridden and seemed somewhat unreal. The movie with Julia Roberts will probably be better.”
Wow! So maybe it was the book, and not Julia Robert’s or the director’s fault.
Gosh! I wish I could tell Theda and save her the money…Oh, well, maybe she needs to ‘swim the moat to get to the castle’…
John Ueng says
This review is right-on-the-money!
‘Eat Pray Love’ Review: Pretty to Look at, Hard to Care About.
“Eat Pray Love” exists to please lovers of the best-selling book of the same name – and anyone who prefers pretty postcards to nuanced storytelling.
Julia Roberts is missed. Hopefully we will see her back in roles that are more suitable for her acting chops. They put her in a box when she needed to fly……..that movie was a rehearsal for her….let’s see what’s in store for her.
The movie did not even come CLOSE to doing the book justice. (Although Javier Bardem was delicious.) Here’s why: http://whitefluffyicing.com/2010/08/eat-pray-love-movie/
Hey if you like Italian food & Javier Bardem go see the movie if not don’t bother as it is a little long winded but still a very sweet film.
it was Ok if u like Italian food (& I do ) & Javier Bardem (& i do a lot)..film is a little long-winded in parts but a very sweet film nonetheless.
John U. says
A movie based on a marketing ploy…
(“Eat, Pray, Love” author) Elizabeth Gilbert. She recently admitted, to the surprise of fans, that the supposedly free-wheeling trip described in Eat, Pray, Love (yoga tuition fees and all) had actually been funded by a publisher’s advance on the eventual book. It is easy to see it as a somewhat contrived spiritual odyssey designed by a bookseller eager to cash in on a wealthy demographic: middle-aged women who for some reason feel unfulfilled.
I was counting down for this film…as I was so moved by the book. What a wonderful journey the author takes you on, sadly the movie goer won’t take this same journey!
Like most adaptions, I was let down…more so than usual! I guess if you haven’t read the book, you might think it’s a sweet movie. I do think the acting was good for what the script offered. Sadly, I was so disappointment with what was brought to screen. As a side note, I’m wondering if it’s just me…it seemed that a good portion of the relationship Liz actually had on her journey, they were all presented different….
If you really want to experience the journey of Eat Pray Love, read the book. The movie doesn’t even scratch the surface…
Adam, I hope the Dagger reimbursed your ticket expense. This movie was brutal!
About “Eat, Pray, Love”. I had high hopes for the movie based upon the book’s top reviews (which I never did read). But all that I can say is that nothing in the movie saved it from itself. After the first 10 minutes, the main character, Liz, (whom Julia plays) comes off as a selfish female focused only upon herself. Never mind that her husband loves her, does not want the divorce, has not cheated on her, and the only thing Liz can come up with as a reason for them to divorce is that they have grown apart. Jeepers, wouldn’t we all want to move on when we get a little bored with our significant other? She immediately falls into the bed of a 28 year old before she divorces, but figures out 2 minutes (I mean 2 weeks) later that they are not as passionate anymore, so off to Italy she flies in search of her self. Good for her, but pity Italy. Though the scenes from the streets, cafes, and restaurants in Rome are nostalgic, there is no great, Italian scenery to thrill the traveling heart….OK, maybe a couple of 2 second clips in Tuscany, but that’s it. In Italy, she drinks lots of wine, indulges in plates of spaghetti, and learns that life is about really living in the moment and loving yourself (oh brother). After 3 months of self indulgence in Italy, she’s off to a compound in Calcutta in search of the Guru who will bring her peace. There she learns that through scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, attending early morning prayers to the Guru, and befriending a rough-edged ex pat from Texas who is also there to worship the Guru, that love and God are within yourself (yawn). And finally (thank God, because all this shallow soul searching is getting tedious) she leaves India for Bali to meditate at the feet of a medicine man and ends up in bed with the Brazilian ex pat who now calls Bali his home and whom she later marries (not in the movie). And if one thinks that finally, she has now found true love and inner peace, the poor Brazilian schmuck who seduces her falls very hard for her and wants her to spend the rest of her life with him. But oh no, after weeks of nothing but constant sex with several seconds of coming up for air, she leaves him in tears on the beach because the thought of commitment is so scary to her. Instead, she must go back to the medicine man to inquire, and decides to leave Bali for good and return to the States. Two hours before her plane is scheduled to leave, (yup, we can all see what is coming), she suddenly realizes that she has found true love and runs down to the beach to meet Brazilian sex hunk and they sail off on a boat out into the sunset (or something like that). Poor Liz……I kept thinking the whole way through the movie until the final second (and it took 2 1/2 hours of plodding through the muck to get there) that all that she really needed was Jesus. In summation, a very self indulgent, spiritually empty, and dull woman has somehow written about her shallow existence and search for meaning in such a way that it became a best selling book and now a movie. Go figure.
John U. says
Did anybody read my previous post?
The book was a contrived marketing ploy! There was no spiritual soul searching! It was all for the sake of selling a book to wealthy middle-aged women who feel unfulfilled.
Now a movie based on this faked journey…I don’t understand why so many wealthy middle-aged women are so quick and willing to be scammed. Sad, really.
“…Elizabeth Gilbert. She recently admitted, to the surprise of fans, that the supposedly free-wheeling trip described in Eat, Pray, Love (yoga tuition fees and all) had actually been funded by a publisher’s advance on the eventual book…”