Based on the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love already has its very own built-in audience, the question is whether or not anyone outside of that audience is going to want to eat what this film is cookin’. It seems to me most women that have read this book either love it or hate it, some seeing Gilbert as a self-centered whiner and others taking notes when it comes to her soul-searching world travels. As a male that hasn’t read the book, I have no opinion on these matters.
My only goal was to watch with an open mind and evaluate it solely based on what’s on screen. Unfortunately what’s on screen is an up-and-down story that seems entirely unsure of itself, and that comes primarily as a result of the story’s structure and a shoddy second act.
Julia Roberts stars as the successful writer Elizabeth Gilbert as she has recently divorced her husband (Billy Crudup), followed by a short affair with a young actor (James Franco), and is now at a crossroads in her life. In an attempt to “find herself” she negotiates an advance from her publisher (Viola Davis) for a book she plans to write as she spends a year traveling from Italy, to India and finally to Bali. It ends up being her tour of self-discovery and each stop plays on the film’s title as she eats heartily in Italy, spends time at an ashram in India and finds love in Bali.
Roberts plays the part of Gilbert well, with a big bright smile and a seeming lust for life touched with a hint of fear in taking that second leap at love. Javier Bardem as her eventual suitor is also very impressive, bringing weight to his role and saving the film from spiraling and becoming a total disaster. But the acting is not the problem.
Gilbert’s time in Italy is filled with life and an embracing of the Italian culture. Director Ryan Murphy (“Glee”, Running with Scissors) delivers fantastic looks at Italy and had me drooling over a plate of spaghetti bolognese, but as the film moves to India it hits a wall.
In India, Gilbert meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), a Texas drunk that has turned to prayer after his wife and children left him. At two hours and 13 minutes, Eat Pray Love is already too long, and the India segment feels like it damn near takes up 90 minutes of that time. It’s the only aspect of Liz’s journey where she doesn’t seem to fully embrace the culture she’s surrounded by, and the story stagnates to the point I wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. Once things finally move to Bali they begin to improve, especially with the performance of Hadi Subiyanto as the personable medicine man Ketut, but it’s never able to get back what it lost long ago.
The target demographic — and you know who you are — will likely eat this film up. I was told it’s a fairly accurate adaptation of Gilbert’s book and it’s got all the emotional turning points of a by-the-numbers scripted drama, but it doesn’t have much for anyone outside of its demo. I’ll say if the film had continued on like it started it could have been something much, much better, but the India segment dragged it so far down any bond I had with the film at that point was broken and it couldn’t be repaired.