REVIEW: Eat Pray Love

12 08 2010

The big tagline advertised for “Eat Pray Love” is “let yourself go.”  Indeed, as millions of readers across America have discovered, Elizabeth Gilbert (played here by Julia Roberts, who looks every bit as good as she did 20 years ago in “Pretty Woman”) did just that after she couldn’t find fulfillment in her everyday life.  Her publisher allows her to spend a year traveling to Italy, India, and Bali as she attempts to discover how to forgive her past while finding happiness for the future.

Ryan Murphy’s film adaptation of Gilbert’s memoir, however, doesn’t do itself the favor of following the author’s lead.  Rather than letting itself go, it keeps all its emotions bundled up inside.  There are some definite moments of profound revelation that are wonderful to watch, but the movie comes off as feeling rather cold.

We get to smile on occasion; there is a laugh every once in a while, but we sit through the majority of 130 minutes with a stoic stone-faced look.  Even as Gilbert eats delicious food and falls in love, the movie still keeps a melancholy and vaguely plaintive tone, which really puts a damper on how much we are able to enjoy ourselves.  That’s not to say the movie is off-putting because Gilbert spent a great deal of her year in solemn reflection.  Murphy just doesn’t indulge us often to share in her moments of bliss.

People who have read the book tell me that Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful sense of humor and a compellingly entertaining voice.  It’s a near impossible cinematic feat to lift both of those off the page and onto the screen, and the script, written by Murphy and Jennifer Salt, doesn’t seem to do her writing talents justice.

Julia Roberts fits the part well; the part just doesn’t fit her very comfortably, due mostly to the writing.  She definitely plays up the unhappy side of Gilbert rather than the side that is thrilled by all the great experiences she is having.  It’s a powerful and effective performance largely because of the darker territory Roberts wades into.  She totally gets all the contemplation going on in Gilbert’s head, and we can always sense the wheels turning up there.  Roberts isn’t out to entertain us; she’s trying to take us on a journey of self-examination with her.  It’s up to each moviegoer to decide whether they want to go.

I found myself most moved by Richard Jenkins’ Texan, funnily enough named Richard, an important figure in Gilbert’s travels that she befriends at the ashram in India.  He is mysteriously kind and amiable to her as she tries to make a connection with the ceremonies.  “Don’t try, SURRENDER,” Richard tells her after a particularly frustrating meditation session where she is unable to clear her mind.  While profound sayings like those make him memorable, his story humbles Gilbert and makes him ultimately unforgettable.  I wasn’t a big fan of Jenkins’ Oscar-nominated performance in 2008’s “The Visitor,” but he’s the absolute shining star of “Eat Pray Love,” and I was never more emotionally drawn into the story than when he was on screen.

There are two sentiments that are impossible to avoid while watching the movie.  The first is hunger as we watch Gilbert splurge on pizzas and pastas in Rome.  The sequences, designed to make your mouth water, will precipitate a nice spike in business at Italian restaurants.  The second is wonder, and perhaps even jealousy as we marvel at all the stunning places Gilbert was fortunate enough to discover herself.  Can I go eat pizza in Italy and swim in Bali now?  B+ /


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2 responses

17 08 2010
Jimmy

Hi Marshall,

I personally think the movie was way too long. I’m sure you’ve heard the old phrase, “there was a good 90 minute film in there somewhere.” It could have been way better if it was simply shorter.

18 08 2010
Marshall

I would have been fine without some of the pity party in America or Bali. Haven’t heard that quote before, but I feel like I say similar things about too many movies.

Thanks for commenting! Welcome!

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