EAT PRAY LOVE
Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) had everything a modern woman is supposed to dream of having - a husband, a house, a successful career - yet like so many others, she found herself lost, confused, and searching for what she really wanted in life. Newly divorced and at a crossroads, Gilbert embarks on a journey to Italy, India and Bali in a quest for self-discovery. In her travels, she discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy; the power of prayer in India, and, finally and unexpectedly, the inner peace and balance of true love in Bali.
Review by Louise Keller:
While it touches the main plot points of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling novel like stepping stones, it is left to Julia Roberts' bewitching smile and Javier Bardem's sensuality to convince us that Liz's journey of self discovery is one we want to take. It's about relationships, spirituality, travel and balance and for the female target market, it has appeal. But, I hasten to say: it's far too long, far too trite and far too glossy. My biggest disappointment is that I was not swept away by the experience and that the only moment that affected me emotionally, was one involving Bardem, who seems to be able to cut through the synthetic and connect with something that is real.
Unlike the book which is divided into 109 sections, the film concentrates on the three major chapters in Liz's journey. After a brief prologue in Bali, there's a glimpse of Liz in her New York home environment locked in a marriage that makes her feel as though she has vanished into the person she loves. Billy Crudup plays her husband Stephen in a thankless role and it is difficult to understand the way Liz handles the situation. Also difficult to understand and even harder to believe, is the subsequent fling with James Franco's stage actor David Piccolo who neatly folds her delicates for her at the Laundromat and has curious views about happiness. Liz doesn't collect baby clothes; the travel articles kept in a box under her bed illustrate her dream.
In a bid to gain an appetite for food and life, Liz decides to taste language and gelato in Italy, learn to meditate in an ashram in India and return to Bali, as predicted by an old, toothless prophet (Hadi Subiyanto is charming). There are lashings of no-guilt food in Rome among the pigeons, cobbled streets and water fountains, conversations with hands and the sweet discovery of doing nothing. Weight conscious females will love the calorie philosophy: if your jeans are getting too tight, just buy a larger pair.
The Indian chapter, with painfully thin cows roaming the streets, dust, beggars and temples seems to go on forever. It mostly takes place in the ashram, where Liz scrubs the floor, befriends an Indian girl with an arranged marriage (decked with glorious marigolds and petals) and has a combative relationship with Richard Jenkins' guilt ridden divorcee from Texas. For those who may dream of a trip to a meditative retreat, this may satisfy their fancy; to me, it seemed trite and concocted.
Things improve dramatically in the last chapter, when Javier Bardem's Felipe arrives on the scene and the unfolding of the romance is nicely done. At last there is something tangible at stake and Bardem makes us believe in the relationship. Roberts is lovely throughout and by the end of the journey, we are keen for her recognise what it is she is looking for. After all, what good is the journey, if you throw away everything you have learned? For the girls.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Dissatisfied, searching for meaning, relationship not working, life too crowded and stressed ... we can relate to that, and to the romance of a year long break, to travel to other cultures as both an escape and a journey of self discovery. I'm not really sure what self discovery means, but a lot of people are into it, none more so that our heroine, Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts), who ditches the husband, the house and the job for a life on the road. Well, we don't see 'the road' (or the airplanes) but the symbolic version is just as good; she starts in Italy where she meets all the stereotypes and eats all the pasta and pizza.
The opening chapter with her husband Steve (Billy Crudup) is listless and unengaging, as is the second chapter with actor David (James Franco) which also fizzles out. Liz has yet to earn our empathy, and I feel less than sure about her character altogether. Can't blame Julia Roberts, though, she throws her megawatt smiles and sudden laughs into the role in equal measure with her tears and emotion-etched face.
The film is surprisingly elongated, given it makes no attempt to link Liz's geographical locations with trivia like travel. So a scene in Italy (clichéd and edited into a travelogue) cuts to a scene in Delhi, straight into the arrival at the ashram after a wild taxi ride through the streets, complete with begging street urchins. Likewise the cut to Bali for the final chapter. Tension and dynamics are low, except for the film's most emotional scene, which focuses on Richard Jenkins' character, an older divorcee staying at the Delhi ashram, who unburdens his demons on Liz in a fabulous, heartwrenching single uncut shot.
This has more punch than the climactic romantic scene but still doesn't save the film from tedium.
Javier Bardem turns up too late to save the day, but he brings classy buzz as the Brazilian divorcee who adores his 19 year old son and whose love tentacles reach out to Liz in an effortless show of loving bravery, challenging her to take the risk. By then, though, there is a sense that Liz has never really taken any risks in this enterprise of hers and her experimentation with the spirituality of the East was at arm's length. She has risked very little, in fact, given she had already walked out of her marriage.
Of course, we should remember that the film delivers exactly what it promises (although women in my family who have read the book are not convinced) by way of the ultimate romantic fantasy for women over 30 or so (divorced or not). It's wish fulfilment time at your local cinema so go and enjoy it.
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EAT PRAY LOVE (M)
CAST: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup
PRODUCER: Dede Gardner
DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy
SCRIPT: Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt (memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson
EDITOR: Brad Buecker
MUSIC: Dario Marianelli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bill Groom
RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 7, 2010