Eat Pray Love

Not one of Roberts' finer moments.

One has to wonder quite which demographic Eat Pray Love director Ryan Murphy was shooting for when he decided that a 140-minute romantic comedy was a good idea. Murphy, who has proven proficient in making unrepentant trash undeniably entertaining (he created the delightfully sordid show Nip/Tuck), falls afoul in an altogether more pious endeavour, breezing through this true story’s more interesting moments and gawking interminably at the head-smackingly dull ones.

Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is dissatisfied with her life. After a bitter divorce from her husband Steven (Billy Crudup), she decides to go on a journey of self-discovery, having a feast of food in Italy, a spiritual reawakening in India, and finally a romantic encounter in the Indonesian island of Bali, hoping that it can regain her zest and passion for life.

While the concept itself – though formulaic – isn’t so bad, Eat Pray Love falls on its face early on, failing to grasp the basic human essence of emotions, instead coming off as a vacuum-sealed and mechanised telling of an interesting true story. The film’s major dramatic beats, all of which involve her jilting a man in her life, fail to cohere into much meaningful, and frankly, one is left wondering what Liz’s problem really is. She tells Crudup’s Steven, “I don’t want to be married anymore”, and it comes out of nowhere, unjustified by any previous telegraphing and coming off more as shockingly hilarious than meaningful. When we see a teary-eyed Steven moping after a divorce meeting, we want to give him a hug, and if the film is trying in any way to make a sympathetic character out of Liz instead, it is a categorical failure. Just as she dumps Steven, she needlessly jilts the toy-boy David (James Franco), and jets off on her holiday of self-aggrandisement.

It is ridiculously juvenile for Liz  to think that going to a foreign country is going to fix all of her problems. The food and culture might be different, but people, fundamentally, are not. The film’s laboured attempts at selling any lifestyle that isn’t American suggests that it was largely funded by the Italian, Indian and Indonesian tourist boards. Various nuggets of “sage” and “deep” dialogue, such as suggesting that Americans work too hard and “know entertainment but not pleasure” reinforce the film’s prime fault; it is bloated and full of hyperbolic nonsense. Its oh-so-cultured attitude veers dangerously close to holier-than-thou pomp, and that’s a disservice to just about anyone American or European watching it. Who knows what anyone not included in those two groups thinks of them both…

The “Pray” chapter in India doesn’t fare a whole lot better. Even those not averse to spirituality are likely to finds its treatment here overbearing, even condescending. One scene, in which Liz speaks to a young girl who is about to have an arranged marriage, is disturbing in its reliance on prayer rather than practical solutions. However, the star of the segment, and indeed, the entire film, is Six Feet Under‘s Richard Jenkins. In much the same way as he did for the mediocre Dear John, Jenkins crops up for a belter of a performance before disappearing as inconspicuously as he first appeared. A three-minute monlogue about his estranged son is so brilliantly, authentically played that it feels wildly out of step with the rest of the film.

Repeating the formula of the film’s prologue, the “Love” section has her meet Felipe (Javier Bardem), a charming Brazilian exporter who quickly sets his eyes on her. Of course, she’s again resistant, and again, we incredulously wonder why. It is as though Murphy has chosen to subversively turn the adaptation into a satire about the indulgent indecisiveness of the modern rom-com (and therefore, unfortunately, of some misguided, mangled interpretation of the “modern” woman). If that is Murphy’s intention, then this is a first-class treatise, but it clearly is not. The fact that Roberts needs to consult all manner of nonsense in order to sort herself out – and she pretty much just accepts whatever truisms these people spit at her – is a sign that what we’re seeing is anything but enlightenment; it feels like just another kind of slavery. Throw in some maudlin sub-plotting for good measure – an impoverished young mother in the area whose problems go away thanks to Liz’s efforts – along with a cheesy eleventh hour meeting at the docks at sunset (would it really have killed Liz to write a specific time down?), and you have all the ingredients for a ripe romantic stinker.

Julia Roberts can do better than this tripe. She is outdone here by her male performers, who regrettably get the short shrift in favour of some admittedly vibrant cinematography and luscious food porn, but this self-consciously bohemian rom-com, for all its attempts at drama are worth, feels more like an agonisingly long Thomas Cook ad for its dreamy locales than anything even remotely approaching emotional warmth.


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