MemoirsÂ of self-discovery are tricky in their execution and as objects of entertainment. As the self-appointed protagonist gets deeper into their journey, there is the risk of losing those viewers that canâ€™t afford the trip. That is not to place a monetary value on finding yourself, but to note the essential sacrifices–family, career, home–that come with it. The parts of Eat Pray Love that work meet those pitfalls head on, with some mildly profound results. The parts that donâ€™t work undo the good and lower the credibility of this so-called narrative of enlightenment.
Memoirs of self-discovery are tricky in their execution and as objects of entertainment. As the self-appointed protagonist gets deeper into their journey, there is the risk of losing those viewers that can’t afford the trip. That is not to place a monetary value on finding yourself, but to note the essential sacrifices–family, career, home–that come with it. The parts of Eat Pray Love that work meet those pitfalls head on, with some mildly profound results. The parts that don’t work undo the good and lower the credibility of this so-called narrative of enlightenment.
One of my favourite escapes is Under the Tuscan Sun, a shorter, sweeter nonfiction adaptation starring Diane Lane as a similarly styled soul-searching, divorcee writer. While Frances Mayes attempts to escape an unfaithful marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert’s mission seems to be to escape herself, making her a far less sympathetic character. I haven’t read Gilbert’s bestseller, and it was difficult not to treat Roberts’s Liz as a fictional character, and thus, tear her ‘development’ to shreds. Also complicating the matter is the knowledge that Gilbert signed a book deal ahead of her pilgrimage through Italy, India, and Bali. The clearly debatable elements of this film are the choice of actors, the time committed to details and their execution, and, considering all of the above, why you showed up in the first place. Seriously, if you dislike Julia Roberts or watching WASPs orchestrate their own epiphanies, just stay away.
Julia Roberts plays Gilbert with sincere enough discontent and urgency that it makes me regret the similar roles she’s had in the past (Runaway Bride, Notting Hill). Gilbert is deliberately cast as a flawed character; to emphasize this, director Ryan Murphy (Glee) surrounds Roberts with rolling eyes and blame, and Roberts strikes a believable balance between delusional and brave. Murphy picks some great actors to put Roberts through the wringer, namely Viola Davis and Richard Jenkins. Franco is maybe the least charming I’ve ever seen him, and I like it. Book deal or not, Gilbert may not have found any meaning on the other side of the trip she makes after divorcing her well-meaning husband, and regrettably tearing herself away from a destructive rebound relationship. But it was important for her to find a version of herself that had nothing to do with expectation and decorum, and certainly, not romance.
Two-thirds of the film tells this story: in the romantic environments of Italy, Gilbert only allows herself a daily indulgence of gastronomical pleasure. Roberts isn’t as interesting defending her growing waistline as she is processing the destruction of the Roman civilization as an analog for the ruin of everyday life, chaos breeding change. Roberts looks like a woman whose life is in ruins, but it remains important that she perseveres. Murphy and Robert get the chaos right, all the while conscious of Gilbert’s hand in her own undoing. I think Roberts offers Gilbert up for criticism, but the actress’s earnest offering does not sustain the length of the film (two and a quarter hours). The last place I care a shred about Roberts/Gilbert is India, where Gilbert goes to complete her constructive self-destruction in an ashram. There, Gilbert vicariously experiences the entrapment of arranged marriage through a young female friend, and the film’s message about female empowerment peaks.
Murphy sacrifices some of the time he could have dedicated to Bali, establishing the problems with Gilbert’s past relationships at the outset. The prologue is comfortably paced and entertaining; it’s focus makes sense when we believe Elizabeth is on a path unmarked by expectation or control. Bali closes the story by way of return, the fulfillment of Gilbert’s destiny that is yet so abrupt that it undermines her previous self-empowerment. This is, in the end, a love story, as the title states, but I didn’t buy Roberts and Javier Bardem as lovers (kind of got the wiggins from them, frankly), nor was I impressed that Gilbert is swiftly broken down with love in the final act. If Gilbert’s story is accurately represented by Murphy and Roberts, this tells me that I probably shouldn’t read her memoir. If not, I hope Gilbert represents herself as less of a neurotic, yielding woman in the original than Murphy has made her out to be.
Overall Score: 5.90 – Bad. (5s are movies that either failed at reaching the goals it set out to do, or didn’t set out to do anything special and still had many flaws. Some will enjoy 5s, but unless you’re a fan of this genre, you shouldn’t see it, and might not even want to rent it.)