Monday, August 16, 2010

Movie Review: Eat, Pray, Love

My wife and her friend are going to go see Eat, Pray, Love soon, and because they have a strong relationship with the book, my bet is that they'll like it. I think Justin's review below is very interesting for the way he seems to acknowledge what the film is trying to do more than what it actually achieves. Travelogues play different in book form, especially one in which you imagine yourself as the character experiencing transformative moments. It's easier to imagine that the character in a book is you, or at least more like you, than a familiar movie star. Just take this for example. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, is a very pretty woman.
But she was played by this person:
Which can you envision yourself being? It's an interesting facet that I've been wondering about myself. Anyway, here's Justin's take on it.

Postcards from a Midlife Crisis
Julia Roberts searches for meaning and pizza
Justin Senkbile

Based on the much-loved memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert and directed by “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, Eat Pray Love is something of a romantic road movie. Sure, it's slight, puffy and has its fair share of problems, but it manages to avoid the pandering and the veiled sexism of most other romantic comedies.

After a messy divorce from Stephen (Billy Crudup) and a stagnant rebound with David (James Franco), writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) finds herself with a sudden detachment from and lack of passion in her life. Desperately needing a jump start, she does what any self-respecting romantic with the financial means and a bit of bravery would do: spends a year abroad, traveling between Italy, India and Bali.

In Italy, Liz finds companionship mostly around the dinner table and discovers the joy of eating the leisurely, not-so-American way. Solace through meditation is found in India. And in Bali she seems able, after quite a bit of struggle, to accept love in her life again (with Javier Bardem, no less).

The problem is that Liz seems to be on a great, albeit emotional, vacation rather than some transformative journey, so any “balance” she's found by the end feels arbitrary and impulsive. Perhaps the subtleties of such an introspective journey are something that Roberts and Murphy just aren't able to communicate. Perhaps it’s too complex to be expressed convincingly on screen at all.

Regardless, the coherence of Liz's evolution isn't helped by the fact that it's set in such exotic locales and photographed so gorgeously. It simply can't avoid playing into everyone's latent wanderlust instead of starting an introspective spark. Liz keeps on waxing existentially on the soundtrack, but we're held captive by images of an incredible looking breakfast or a picturesque villa in Bali. It ends up being inspirational only in the sense that it inspires further daydreams.

With her trademark charm, Roberts traipses easily, if unremarkably, through the film. In fact, the only standout performance comes from Richard Jenkins, who plays a recovering alcoholic also named Richard, whom Liz meets at the ashram in India.

Although its problems make it tempting, it'd be unfair to pass of Eat Pray Love as just a way to watch rich people do expensive things. That description belongs to stuff like Sex and the City 2, and not something as harmless and well-intentioned as this. Let's instead call it a pleasant trip through a stack of flimsy postcards.

Grade: C

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