Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ryan Murphy
Stars: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Hadi Subiyanto.
This film ticks all the right boxes to become a box office success. It’s based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling memoir about her epic quest for self-discovery and regaining her appetite for life, a novel that was championed by Oprah Winfrey. It has been directed by Ryan Murphy, creator and writer of hit tv series Glee. And it’s set in some of the most gorgeous and breathtaking locations. It stars Pretty Woman herself Julia Roberts, probably the highest paid actress in films today, and her mega-watt smile and bubbly personality. There’s also plenty of eye candy, with an attractive supporting cast that includes James Franco and Javier Bardem.
And while this idealised globe-trotting tale of female empowerment, wish fulfilment, and a spiritual quest will no doubt resonate with its target audience, for many the thought of spending two and a quarter hours with a navel-gazing Roberts will be the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry.
Eat Pray Love has been adapted from Gilbert’s novel by Murphy (whose previous film was another memoir – Running With Scissors) and tv actress turned script writer Jennifer Salt, but the journey becomes a bit repetitive and the film itself is way too long. The insights it offers are also superficial and glib.
Roberts delivers a strangely one-dimensional performance as the self absorbed Gilbert, a writer who feels that she has lost her appetite for life, and decides to take a year off for a sabbatical. But given her comfortable life style, her well-paid job and her circle of friends it’s a little hard to empathise with her complaints and continual whining about her unhappy lot in life. She ditches her hapless lawyer husband Stephen (Billy Crudup) to take up with a younger lover David (James Franco), a sensitive, aspiring actor. But still feeling unsatisfied, she heads off for her journey of self-discovery and spiritual healing.
She flies to Italy for four months, where she embraces the rich culture and food. Then it’s off to India where she spends four months at an ashram getting in touch with her spiritual side, and helping a young Indian girl come to terms with her arranged marriage. She also gets plenty of homespun philosophy from Richard (Richard Jenkins), a Texan who is on retreat and seeking forgiveness for his past mistakes. And finally it’s off to Bali, where she seeks enlightenment under the guidance of an elderly toothless guru (Hadi Subiyanto), who may be either 101 years old or 64. She also finds romance with the handsome Felipe (Javier Bardem), who runs an import/export business.
On the positive side, though, the film looks absolutely superb. The film has been beautifully shot by veteran Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK, etc), who imbues the gorgeous and sun-drenched locations with a golden warmth. He even shoots Roberts with golden sunlight draping her hair like a halo at times. The film brings to life the rich sights, sounds and atmosphere of the various exotic locations, and the film at times looks like a glossy travelogue.
Which is not a bad thing, as many will soak up these romantic locations and ignore Robert’s piteous and self-serving journey and her endless bouts of meditation. Diane Lane underwent a similar life changing experience in Under The Tuscan Sun, but that film was far superior in all facets to this rather bland and tiresome effort.