Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love is the sort of mind-numbing wish-fulfilling garbage that middle age women my mom’s age use for pornography. Oh the chance for so many ladies to sit and watch one of those winning actresses that they all love (Julia Roberts in this case) go on a voyage of self discovery and discover “herself” and find fulfillment. Of course, this involves travelogue in such bucolic locales as Rome, Bali and India, where Roberts gets to medidate and really just discover “how to feel”. Let’s put it this way – not even the Stockholm Syndrome associated with watching a movie like this as a vestige of entertainment on a 10 hour Lufthansa flight did not affect me in the slightest. That with its bubble brained message and Magic White Girl among exotic peoples values, it is sadly also competently made and acted, which denied me the only possible pleasure this experience could have offered.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Roberts’ character, begins the movie as an apparently successful writer but who feels empty on the inside – given that she is a writer, who is actually employed anywhere, this might be a cause for her to roll out of bed in celebration each day, but alas. She interviews this fortune telling guy in Bali who talks about foreboding in her life (or something – of course we’ll never see him again, RIGHT?). She leaves her husband, citing that she seems to be lacking feeling. But the movie handles this by having her spilling her guts to her best friend about how cold she has become. It is easy to cite this as typical rich trouser-stain angst, but I will be charitable. Certainly emptiness and a feeling of nihilistic meaninglessness can come over any profession ans any grownup. It can be rather sadly profound. However, this movie is not really plumbing such depths. This is one of those classic “show, don’t tell” sort of things – and a sort of mishandling of the adaptation of the book by Murphy. Roberts is certainly not a bad actor, but not much is asked of her here aside from just embodying the protagonist for all those women who flocked to see Sex and the City 2. Really, the emotional transitions throughout feel rushed. Murphy does not do a good job finding ways cinematically to allow Gilbert to be profoundly unhappy – and then later on discovering what she has lost.
ANYWAY, the separation leads to Gilbert falling into some stud muffin’s arms (James Franco – no, I don’t think he is as such, but such is his role), and she goes through the motions, and then she goes to Rome to learn how to speak Italian and eat lovely food. This gives the movie a chance to of course get into travelogue, and that’s where the middle age hearts will be gushing undoubtedly. To be fair, the movie does deliver nicely on these notes. Italy has never looked lovelier (well except for the incomparably better peer movie Under the Tuscan Sun – but details).
In Italy, Elizabeth meets a Swedish expatriate who introduces her to a stud muffin Italian tutor. They show each other the way of each other’s cultures – and of course this leads to a lovely faux Thanksgiving meal (look at Elizabeth spreading American culture – sort of a Indian/Pilgrim in reverse) where everyone can tell Julia Roberts how awesome she is.
Then, it is onto India and an ashram where she is looking for more fulfillment. Here, her mentor becomes a fellow American who is showing her the way – and sees right through her (at least at first). The American, played by Richard Jenkins (almost so good that he thought he was in another movie), has pains of his own – her discovery of this pain is actually one of the movie’s two best scenes. This CHANGES Elizabeth – at least somewhat – and of course this causes the Jenkins character to of course see how wonderful this lady is (along with of course all the ethnic peoples she encounters – what a doll).
The movie is very lazy with Gilbert’s own journey, milking it for the most surface of effects – and the end effect becomes all these ethnic folks, apparently waiting all these years for Julia Freakin Roberts to walk into their lives, just gushing at how wonderful this woman is, and how much she means to them. This in turn changes Gilbert and she is now that deep, profound person who has a soul and all that crap. What is fascinating is that with the Jenkins character, and a rather lovely scene involving a man in Bali (Javier Bardem) and a day with his son – the movie shows that is CAN have some depth and interest in personal journeys. But when it comes to the main gal, it chooses the easier path – maybe Murphy does not think the Sex and the City demo gals are not very bright. Of course, if the later seasons of that show are any judge … ok, that’s mean. I know, from those who read the book, that the movie shortchanges the journey of Elizabeth, or that she used her book advance to do her touring. Neither of these facts make me feel any better.