Film Review with Robert Mann – Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love **

There was a time when Julia Roberts was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Yet, like many of tinsel town’s most successful actors her star has fallen since the beginning of the 21st century with her once loyal fans having moved onto pastures new and (aside from ensemble films such as the Ocean’s movies) her films no longer being either the box office draws they once were or, in some cases, even receiving the same level of critical prestige.
Like many stars before her, however, she now seems primed for a comeback with her latest film, Eat Pray Love, a film that has already found a pretty substantial audience on its release in the states, even if it is hardly the blockbuster hit that she used to appear in or even a critical success, the reviews from across the pond being largely lacklustre. Based on the bestselling 2006 memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert entitled Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia which chronicles the author’s travels around the world following her divorce and what she discovers along the way, the movie adaptation is clearly a film aimed at the mature chick flick audience, clearly being a rather sophisticated kind of movie a la Sex and the City, although the choice of director perhaps seems rather unlikely, with the man helming the film being Ryan Murphy, best known for his hit TV series Glee. Given his involvement, however, the film is not what you would expect it to be.

Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) has everything a modern woman is supposed to dream of having – a husband in form of the loyal and loving but unadventurous Stephen (Billy Crudup), a house and a successful career. And yet, like so many others, she feels lost and confused, unsure of what she really wants. When she finds herself newly divorced and at a crossroads in life, she finds herself immediately entering into another relationship with the younger and more spiritualistic David (James Franco) but this too leaves her unfulfilled. Unsure about who she is and what she wants from her life, Liz abruptly decides to step out of her comfort zone. Risking everything to change herself, she embarks on a journey around the world that becomes a quest for self-discovery. First she travels to Italy where she discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating and indulging herself along with some new found friends in the form of fellow traveller Sofi (Tuva Novotny) and Italian teacher Giovanni (Luca Argentero). Then she heads to India to discover the power of prayer and meditation alongside Richard (Richard Jenkins), a fellow American who imparts his wisdom upon her and local girl Tulsi (Rushita Singh). Finally, she goes to Bali to learn from Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto), a medicine man she met many years earlier and who prophesised her return, and while there she unexpectedly discovers the inner peace and balance of true love with fellow divorcee Felipe (Javier Bardem).

One thing that is really striking when watching Eat Pray Love is the fact that the film’s central character is a well to do woman with everything and yet she finds herself unhappy and so she goes on the kind of adventure that only someone well off could possibly have and that the rest of us could only dream of (although this isn’t necessarily a failing on the part of the film – after all, who among us wouldn’t so something similar if we were given the opportunity?) Yet, as the protagonist, we are supposed to be able to relate to and empathise with her – a woman who seems inherently selfish, throwing away a perfectly good life and hurting no less than two men who have fallen deeply in love with her for her own selfish ends. Simply put, the film seems very pretentious and condescending in many ways and the lack of a central character who is even close to being relatable (if this is the way the real Liz Gilbert is then I feel sorry for any man whose involved with her) makes for a film with which we can form little to no emotional connection. In a drama based around a character on a journey of self discovery, this is obviously a very big problem, although it could likely be argued that this is simply reflective of the true story that serves as the film’s inspiration rather than a true criticism of the film itself. The real failing of the film is, in fact, Ryan Murphy. It’s rather strange that a director best known for creating a TV show as vibrant, lively, kinetic and energetic as Glee could direct a movie as a lifeless as this one and also rather ironic that a film based around embracing life could be so lifeless. Even with one year’s worth of events condensed into two hours ten minutes, the film still manages to be a drag, being far too longwinded and really failing to be engaging in the way it so clearly should be. Many of the ingredients are there – the film is often pretty funny, the romantic engagements are well handled and the locales are astonishingly beautiful – yet the film often seems more like a tourists guide to Italy, India and Bali than a movie and this, combined with the way Liz eating Italian food is shown with lingering close up shots – something that will make you hungry – is more likely to make you envious of this woman undergoing the experience of a lifetime than actually like her in any way. It’s a shame the film is so lacking as there are actually some pretty good performances from the film’s cast. Julia Roberts, while not at her very best, delivers a strong performance and does her best to make us like a character whose actions are sometimes inherently unlikable and her relationships with co-stars Billy Crudup, James Franco and Javier Bardem all come with believable chemistries that make the formations and/or break-ups of each truly convincing. Each of those performers themselves also performs well, even though the roles here are hardly among their very best. The real standout performer, however, is an entirely unrecognisable Richard Jenkins, who once again displays why he is one of Hollywood’s best actors with another terrific performance following in the footsteps on numerous other fantastic performances he has delivered recently. It’s just a shame that the films he is appearing aren’t more deserving of his acting abilities as Eat Pray Love is another film that his great acting cannot save from mediocrity. Not without its charms, this is a film that some will undoubtedly get enjoyment out of and that occasionally has moments that are pretty darn good but sadly these are not enough to make the film as a whole anything more than passable. Eat. Pray. Love? More like Eat. Pray. Like as a friend.

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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)



© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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