Some books are left as just that, books. Taking what was described in a well-written memoir and translating into a major motion picture is no small feat and sometimes, too big to conquer. However, that doesn’t stop producers from wanting to, often going way too far in attempting to recreate the magic felt by thousands of readers for their own version on the big screen. It’s in that same spirit we find “Eat Pray Love,” a film that had a real chance to impress, but instead felt like an uneven mix of emotions built around a central theme that wasn’t explained all that well to begin with.
What’s it about?
Based from the best-selling memoir by the same name, the story in this follows the journey of Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) shortly after her realization that she was living in an unhappy marriage. Unwilling to dwell on the situation, she decides to divorce her husband Stephen (Billy Crudup) and entertain an affair with David (James Franco) she had already started. Several months later though, she found herself still unhappy and while on a trip to Bali to write about yoga, she met a local medicine man by the name of Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) who would go on to tell her one day she would return to Bali to find the balance she was craving for in her life. So, after signing the divorce papers she decided to take a 12-month trip around the world starting in Italy where she would learn to “Eat” and enjoy life before going to India to find her own spirituality to “Pray” and finally end her trip in Bali, Indonesia where she hoped to find balance between the two, but instead discovered “Love” again. The result is exactly like you would write up, had you been travelling for a year hoping to “discover yourself,” only here it felt a tad bit rushed in the way it was delivered, missing the elements that helped define the story.
Who was in it?
Even at the tender age of 42, Julia Roberts can still draw a crowd. Fans of her will watch her in anything, which is natural, but for the rest of us, we want something that will grab us in a unique way. No one expected “Erin Brockovich” to be what it was, but without Roberts on board, that film would have never been seen and praised. That’s a fact, but what I find interesting is how few leading roles Roberts has had since then. Mostly collaborating with a large cast is all Roberts has been doing since having kids and although she has done well in that realm, I would have liked to see her do a little more since her Oscar-winning performance in “Erin Brockovich.” Nevertheless, she does well here with what was given to her, offering up that hard to resist charm that exudes every breath and step she takes. And for the story, that was perfect as the act of watching a woman travel around eating, praying and loving isn’t all that intriguing. But, Roberts made it her own honoring Elizabeth Gilbert, and for that I credit what she was able to accomplish with this role as not too many actors would have been able to keep you involved in such a film. And just with Roberts around made it easy the watch the remaining cast which outside of Richard Jenkins’ brilliance, in just a few scenes; pretty much fell into place without issue.
There’s no doubt writer/director Ryan Murphy has a world of talent, having developed such hit TV series like Nip/Tuck and Glee. Even his highly underappreciated “Running with Scissors” from a few years ago was a stroke a genius in many ways, so knowing all that; I went into this film expecting a certain quality. And although I got that in part, it wasn’t exactly consistent at times which to me made this entire story that much duller. It’s one thing to have to direct a story through a series of people just sitting around talking, eating and praying. But, to take those often uninspiring elements and progress into ‘love’ is quite the task, as most love stories cover an entire film, not just five percent like this one. I’m not saying Murphy needed to completely trash the beautiful Elizabeth Gilbert memoir, I’m just saying he could have done a better job ins layering in the individual elements that made this story what is was. Dwelling on eating or praying is not good filmmaking to me and here almost disengaged you from the story taking place. I don’t need to see five angles of Julia Roberts’ character eating spaghetti. Give me one or two and please move on to something else more exciting. And quite honestly, that pretty much sums up how this film felt for its extremely long 133 minutes.
Having never read the book, I certainly didn’t know what to expect going into “Eat Pray Love,” which in the end helped make it somewhat entertaining. Had I read the book, I might have been grossly disappointed with what director Ryan Murphy did with this depiction as it just never felt right, making me believe the memoir truly was just too good to translate in this fashion.