Based on the best selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert about a woman in the grips of a midlife crisis who travels the world in an effort to feed her mind, body and soul, with a supporting cast that features Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis and James Franco.
"Eat Pray Love" is a slow-moving, over-long film adaptation of a self-help book whose cure for misery is completely unattainable to 99% of the people on Earth.
Julia Roberts stars as Elizabeth Gilbert, a real-life freelance writer living in New York City whose marriage disintegrates, leaving her, like so many others, desperate to find happiness. So she does what any of us would do: leaves her husband, dates a younger man (the film curiously separates these events while Gilbert is very open about their overlap), and then spends a year eating her way through Italy, praying across India and falling in love in Bali. So quit feeling sorry for yourself and call a travel agent.
One wonders how inspiring it will be for audiences to watch someone with Julia Roberts' figure "having an affair with my pizza." The woman tops out at about a size 4 in the film, and this is her letting go. See, with a steady diet of pizza and pasta, you too can have a movie star's body.
When Liz heads to India, she goes to pray at the ashram of a guru whom she learned about from her young paramour. While she's desperate to establish her own identity independent of men -- "My whole life I've either been with a guy or breaking up with a guy" -- she goes in search of peace by following her ex's guru. You don't need that man, just his spirituality.
Then it's off to Bali, where she falls in love with a sexy Brazilian man named Felipe (Javier Bardem) with a passion for mixed tapes.
None of this is to begrudge Gilbert her travels or meals or prayers or love -- happy she's happy and all that. And to be fair to both the real and fictionalized Liz Gilbert, as well as writer-director Ryan Murphy, the film is moderately more nuanced. Our heroine does realize that she's gotta work through some inner turmoil/guilt before she can be happy. But if that were really the lesson of the film, Liz would've had a Eureka! moment where she realizes that all that travel and face-stuffing and kneeling and such was a colossal waste of time. She could've gotten her head together in New York, no?
Watching wealthy, beautiful, successful, privileged people weep their way through an existential crisis is tedious under the best of circumstances, but it's made more so by Murphy's sweeping travel-porn cinematography. The locations are gorgeous, to be sure, but how many rice paddies can we sail over in 133 minutes? The sight of Javier Bardem sitting on a rock, looking longingly out over the sea as the music swells (oh lord how the music in this film swells and swells and swells) is one of the most embarrassingly earnest cinematic moments of 2010.
Roberts is likable and fun and sexy in the way that her fans will respond to. The gigantic smile, the bursts of laughter, the weird vertical lines that pop up on her forehead when she furrows or frowns... She even manages to get angry once or twice. Bardem brings the full force of his charm, but he feels out of place in this film.
James Franco as Liz' post-marriage lover merely adds to his whole "Is it a put on?" mystique with a performance that works fine within the bounds of "EPL," but would've felt equally at home during one of his "General Hospital" stints. What that dude is up to is one of Hollywood's great puzzles. Richard Jenkins does a nice job as "Richard from Texas," but is saddled with the annoying affectation of calling Gilbert "Groceries," because of her love of food. It's a coinage that Jenkins inherited from the real-life Richard and one that Murphy could've easily dropped from the script.
At its core, the story of "Eat Pray Love" is that of a woman fighting their way through a midlife crisis. There's nothing particularly special about Gilbert's misery and she's never in danger of being attacked by anything more perilous than sorrow. So why should we root for her more than any other tourist?