Movie Review: Eat, Pray, Love
Rating: PG-13 (brief nudity, brief strong language, some sexual references)
Length: 133 minutes
Release Date: August 13, 2010
Directed by: Ryan Murphy
Stars: 2 out of 5
Movies about finding yourself are not always an easy draw for movie studios. There are quite a few films about this age-old theme, so there has to be something that makes a single film in this genre stand out. "Eat, Pray, Love" has two big things going for it. One is that it is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who based it on her own story. The other is that it marked the return of Julia Roberts to the lead romantic heroine, a part she hadn't played in several years.
Director Ryan Murphy (the co-creator of television phenomenon "Glee") co-wrote the script with Jennifer Salt based on Gilbert's tome about how she traveled around the world eating, praying and, eventually, loving as well. He got the tone of the book correct in the film and used Roberts to good effect.
Roberts stars as Liz Gilbert, a writer who lives a nice upper-middle class existence in Manhattan. With nearly a quarter of New York citizens living below the poverty level, achieving the lifestyle Liz and her husband Stephen (Billy Crudup) share is no easy feat. Most would be very happy being paid to travel to exotic locales and write about them like Liz does. Most would be happy to have such a devoted husband as Stephen. For some reason, Liz is bored and unhappy with this magnificent life, though no reason for why is every given.
She leaves Stephen and takes up with a young actor named David (James Franco) in a desperate attempt to make herself happy. It fails miserably. She never really opens up to David and seems at least a little despondent over how bad she hurt her exhusband. At this point in the movie, Liz has to make some wholesale changes in her life, or she'll be mired down in her depression. She pitches a book about finding oneself on a culinary and spiritual journey. She is given a big advance on the book and uses it to fund her wanderlust.
She begins in Italy, where she hires a tutor to help her learn the language. She spends a full four months here eating her way across various regions, meeting and making friends. She is also taught by her tutor about the differences in the American and Italian ways of life, insight which she would later include in her book.
Next she is off to India, where the "pray" part of the title comes in. She checks into an ashram to help her achieve some kind of spiritual enlightenment. There she meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), who goes by "Richard from Texas." He is a man who is about to die, and it is through him, not the meditating, that Liz has an epiphany.
She is then off to Bali, where she meets Felipe (Javier Bardem), a divorced Brazilian who is as handsome as he is charming. Liz quickly falls for him, but is scared to be with him after her recent romantic failures. It is curious that Liz falls back into her same old fear patterns despite the fact that she just spent the last eight months traveling and trying to gain spiritual enlightenment. The end of the movie boils down to whether or not she can get past her old self and become a new person by embracing the love that is right in front of her.
Roberts takes the character of Liz and gives her some humanity, which is not an easy feat. The character could have easily been very unlikable. There are few people who can stomach how selfish Liz was at the beginning of the movie. The script sets her up as somewhat deplorable before redeeming her as she travels the world. Roberts does an admirable job making sure the audience likes Liz before the end of the movie.
Bardem turns in his usual great performance, but the real gem is Jenkins as Richard from Texas. His initial dislike of Liz and eventual warming to her is some of the most transformative work in the film. His character has some of the most emotional and tear-jerking scenes in the film. If there is any shortcoming, it is that he doesn't get more screen time. It is too bad that Jenkins couldn't have a larger role because in a movie with many big-name stars like Roberts, Bardem and Franco, he is the true spiritual heart.