There are some books that just can’t be translated well into film. I have not read Eat Pray Love, but it is my belief from seeing the film that it is one of those books. It’s the only way I can explain a book supposedly being so emotionally charged and life changing, and yet the film based on it turning out flat, boring and eventually succumbing to the most rote clichés out there. It seems the depth and life of the book is seriously lost on the screen because the only other possibility is that the book is very overrated.
Eat Pray Love actually starts out on a very solid note, despite its opening seeming a bit rushed. Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is not happy with her life, despite the fact that it looks pretty good from an outside view. Thus she decides to upend it, get a divorce and start dating a younger actor. That latter relationship doesn’t work out either so she runs away for a year to Italy (Eat), India (Pray) and Bali (Love). As you can probably guess each country is broken up into different life lessons and mantras, and as she moves from one country to another she learns more and more about herself.
Sadly, Gilbert isn’t that interesting and her life changes aren’t that groundbreaking without the detail that the book hopefully offers up. However, in the beginning it seems that the film might have a chance of capturing some of the interest and passion that the book has sparked. Italy is sumptuously directed and shot, with montages juxtaposing the life that Gilbert use to live to her new life to the food she is eating. It’s actually some amazingly fantastic directing and editing and it makes the Italian sections of the film stand out far and above the rest. A film consisting simply of the style and story of the Italian section of Eat Pray Love would have been far more entertaining and most likely seen some Oscar buzz.
However, the movie moves away from Italy to India where things start to slow down as Gilbert learns to meditate and forgive herself. As Gilbert’s past life starts to fade away so do the montages and clever interplay of scenes. Of course praying isn’t quite as dynamic as eating so this was obviously an intentional move on the part of director Ryan Murphy, and in a way it works artistically, but it slows the film down dramatically. Still, much like Gilbert’s jarring change from her life in Italy to her life in India the film’s jarring change works when it needs to. Of special note is Richard Jenkins performance as Gilbert’s sort of unofficial advisor in India, Richard from Texas. He adds one of the few truly emotional scenes to the entire film and Murphy is smart enough to simply leave the camera on him and let him do it. All in all a decent enough middle to a film that is getting a bit long.
And then we hit Bali. For some reason all the interest, creativity, originality and feeling from the film get sucked out of it in Bali. The movie falls back on a plethora of romance tropes, and starts to look more like a travelogue then the emotional rollercoaster that it should be. Thanks to this you start to really feel the movie’s long running time and, despite Javier Bardem being charming as Gilbert’s new love interest, stop caring about Gilbert as a real person. The third act of the film also unfortunately affects the first two, making meaningful life lessons start to seem far more hollow since the conclusion they lead to is the same one you see in every Hollywood romance. This isn’t a complaint about the story; however, it’s a complaint about how a story, which could have been powerful and meaningful, was handled.
It’s one of the worst fates a film can have when its ending ruins what came before it. However, this is the fate of Eat Pray Love. There is a lot of good before the film reaches its third act, but unfortunately that act goes on for way too long and turns the film into nothing more than your standard romance. It’s hard to call this a bad movie as it is wonderfully and beautifully shot and directed, but its failure to grasp any meaning in its end and its steady decent into boredom make it a failure as a movie overall.