Julia Finds Herself Eating, Praying, And Loving

Sally Mercedes at The Stir:

Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts and her hunky companions, opens this weekend.I already have tickets, so I wanted to know what to expect, but the Eat Pray Love reviews are all over the place.

Katrina Mitchell, CBS News:

[T]he best alternative to a pampered getaway might to [sic] indulge yourself vicariously in Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey of self discovery.

Dezhda Gaubert, E! Online:

While the movie is touching in all the right ways, it doesn’t leap off the screen the way Gilbert’s wry voice jumps off the page.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:

“Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue

Kim Conte, The Stir:

The movie […] succeeds where the book fails. Instead of telling the story about one woman’s very specific path to spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery, it imparts a more universal tale about the search for love.

So, basically, you’re going to love it or hate it. You’ll either cry because you’re moved or completely bored. Good to know!

Robert Levin at Film School Rejects:

In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) eats, prays and loves, while gliding through some of the world’s most beautiful settings. Populated with gorgeous people, vivid scenic vistas and picturesque multicultural happenings, the film would make an ideal promotional spot for its primary locations of Rome, India and Bali.

Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling, autobiographical self-help book (his directorial debut) gets the surface details right. Seen on a big enough screen, the pictures of Rome’s ornamental city streets, India’s sweat soaked ashrams and Bali’s lushly vegetated countryside provoke the sort of all-encompassing awe that in many respects defines the cinema.

But when it comes to the narrative woven around the scenery, the movie starts flat, stays flat and never recovers. Cast wrong and structured lazily, Eat Pray Love lacks the strong dramatic pull needed to sustain a 133-minute production. Mired in a milquetoast aesthetic obsessed with trendy “healing” tropes (meditation, close-ups on delicious looking pasta, Javier Bardem etc.) the movie rarely deviates from the genre’s standard path.

Eric Snider at Cinematical:

Among Julia Roberts‘ many talents is the ability to be likable even when she’s playing a character who isn’t. She’ll star in something dreadful like Runaway Bride or Mona Lisa Smile, and despite what a shrill stereotype the character is, Roberts herself will be infectiously pleasant.

This skill is taxed to its limits in Eat Pray Love, in which Roberts plays a privileged, self-absorbed narcissist who takes a year-long vacation to “find herself.” (You’re always in the last place you look, amirite?) This lady, Elizabeth Gilbert (also the name of the author from whose memoir the film was adapted), isn’t happy married, isn’t happy single, isn’t happy ever. She figures she needs to spend some time with no one but herself. Speaking as one who has spent 140 minutes with her, I would advise against that.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Few actresses can telegraph pleasure as well as Roberts, which is why the “eat” portion of the film, in which her character packs away so much Roman pasta that her jean size soars from 0 to 1, is the most enjoyable of the three. But for those who haven’t read the book, it won’t be easy to grasp how and why Liz gets to Rome in the first place. A rushed and cursory setup has her breaking up with her husband (Billy Crudup) and embarking on a doomed affair with a young actor (James Franco) with little apparent motivation; both men, and in fact every male character in the movie, seem handsome, charming, and besotted with her. We know Liz has hit rock bottom because she tells her publisher, Delia (Viola Davis), “I’ve hit rock bottom,” not because we’ve accompanied her on the way down.

Prozac would be considerably less overprescribed if more writers had publishers like Delia, who lets herself be convinced that a book advance large enough to finance a year of world travel will be just the thing for what ails Liz. (It’s a flaw of both the book and the film that the negotiation of this contract is glossed over so hastily. There’s no shame in having landed a sweet book deal, and having the financial underpinnings of Gilbert’s trip made plain would help to mitigate the audience’s resentment at her barely acknowledged privilege.) Once in Italy, Liz takes language classes, wanders around in cute outfits gandering at fountains, and orders marvelous meals with an assortment of international friends, while Martha Stewart’s food stylist hovers just off-screen with a spray bottle of liquid glycerin. This part of the movie is my favorite because it’s an unabashed glossy travelogue; as viewers, we’re not asked to do anything more than acknowledge the irrefutable fact that il dolce far niente looks like a lot of fun.

The “pray” section, in which Liz seeks spiritual solace in an Indian ashram, is a tougher sell. Watching a person meditate makes for less than dynamic cinema, and the ooglety-booglety inner journeys that Gilbert describes in the book are hard to bring to life on the page, let alone on-screen. The dramatic interest of the India chapter comes from Richard (Richard Jenkins), a fellow spiritual seeker and recovering alcoholic from Texas who befriends Liz with mystifying alacrity—minutes into their first conversation, he’s already bestowed on her an affectionate nickname. Jenkins, a fine character actor, invests Richard with an easygoing gravitas, but I never got around the essential phoniness of the Liz/Richard relationship. His character seems to exist for the sole purpose of dispensing folksy epigrams about acceptance and faith. The one scene in which Richard does get a chance to tell his own story is a nakedly manipulative play on the viewer’s emotions. This scene is meant to show that Liz and Richard have reached a new level of trust with one another, but it marked the moment when I stopped trusting the movie.

Once Liz has checked spiritual seeking off her travel to-do list, she heads to Bali, where an old medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto) takes her on as a student and amanuensis. Amid the island’s lush jungles and libidinous expat parties, she meets a crinkly-eyed Brazilian businessman, Felipe (Javier Bardem), whose bossa-nova mix tapes might as well be titled “Have Sex With Me Right Now.” But Liz, still damaged by the wreckage of her past two relationships, takes a while to respond to Felipe’s advances.

Christian Toto at Big Hollywood:

“Pray,” based on the real exploits of author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends plenty of screen time on the main character’s soul search. Audiences may need to stretch during the film’s bloated running time, but despite the relaxed pace we still don’t adequately feel Liz’s pain.

The movie can’t be bothered to paint her marriage in anything but comically fleeting terms, using its dissolution for some quick laughs. And Crudup is left looking wounded and silly in the process. Who wouldn’t leave this sap? Better yet, who would begrudge herself for fleeing?

Roberts shapes Liz in a way lesser actresses simply couldn’t. She buries her “Pretty Woman” smile long enough to make us care about Liz’s plight, even if we can’t point to any particulars regarding her grieving process.

The film’s romantic angle comes so late in the story it’s a wonder it’s able to resonate at all. Credit Bardem for making the moments matter. He’s instantly relatable, a divorced man eager to resume his romantic life and not shy about showing his affection for his grown child.

Yes, the two kiss on the mouth – platonically, of course – and it’s as sweet a screen moment as you’ll see in the entire film.

What’s missing in “Love” is a sense of surprise. Yes, the Italian city scapes are beautiful, and yes, the food looks so delicious you’ll want to stop the movie and run to the nearest, best Trattoria.

But who couldn’t write such scenes?

The India sequences are equally predictable, down to the cute and cuddly old dude who allegedly possesses all the wisdom in the world – but has very few teeth.

“Eat Pray Love” deserves credit for its storytelling patience and having the smarts to install Roberts in the lead role. But those unfamiliar with the famous book will likely wonder what the fuss is all about.

Linda Holmes at NPR:

I’m not particularly interested in Eat Pray Love, I have to tell you. I own the book; I have not brought myself to read it. I might see the movie. I might not.

But I am rooting for it to become a giant smash hit, because maybe that would mean I would never have to read another “Is Julia Roberts Dead Yet?” piece as long as I live. (Or, for that matter, a piece like “Why Does Everyone Hate Julia Roberts?”, which claims that you can tell from Roberts’ smile that she’s a bad person, and that having had three — THREE! — well-known boyfriends before her husband raises the reasonable suspicion that she is “a bit of a man-eater.”)

I want to keep this reasonably short, because we covered this when Duplicity came out, but it’s worth noting a few issues with, for instance, this effort to evaluate her prospects.

The entire idea that Julia Roberts built her career as a rom-com queen is a questionable one. During her original period of popularity, she also made Steel Magnolias, Sleeping With The Enemy, Hook, and The Pelican Brief. Chuckle at Mary Reilly all you like — The Pelican Brief made 100 million bucks. Erin Brockovich made about $125 million. Audiences have never showed any unwillingness to see Roberts in anything except romantic comedies. She may or may not want to return to them. She may or may not need to.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Movies

One response to “Julia Finds Herself Eating, Praying, And Loving

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s