While Eat Pray Love is generally faithful to Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, critics say the film cut most of the book's "self-realization lessons" to make time for more shots of Julia Roberts eating and loving her way through sun-bathed locales.
Gilbert's voice is preserved through "extensive voice-over," which director Ryan Murphy may rely on too heavily — one reviewer wonders if he, "doesn't trust himself enough to dramatize Liz's emotional journey or he doesn't trust Roberts to reveal her character's feelings through gesture and expression."
The movie rushes through the explanation of why Gilbert decides to leave her husband (played Billy Crudup) and then her younger post-separation boyfriend (James Franco), so "it's difficult to understand what she's running from, or even toward," when she sets off on her journey to Italy, India, and Bali. Though the film doesn't really capture the emotion and honesty that drew readers to Gilbert's story of self-discovery, it still provides something that's all too rare — "a movie that takes seriously (or for that matter has fun with) a woman's autonomy, her creativity, her desire for something other than a mate."
Below, the reviews:
There is an undeniable attractiveness to all this, however doubtful the self-realization lessons may be. One can imagine whiling away pleasant hours watching this movie again as a late-night DVD or in-flight movie. The charms of each location and the vigor of the film's supporting players cast a romantic glow. No, travel — and certainly self-realization — is ever quite like this. But it should be.
In an effort to pack everything in, they rush through the beginning, so we don't really see the dark place from which Liz begins this journey. Without that foundation, it's a little difficult to understand what she's running from, or even toward. Since Roberts neglects to explore the gritty underside of Liz's emotions, we can't build the same bond Gilbert encourages in her book.
Still, the locations are lush, the costumes vibrant, the varying moods properly atmospheric. And the truth is, Gilbert's book wasn't a runaway smash because it told the story of the woman who wrote it, but because it reflected the stories - or fears, or fantasies - of the women who read it.
Now she has found Balance, begins to dance on the high wire of her life. She meets Felipe (Javier Bardem), another divorced exile, who is handsome, charming, tactful, forgiving and a good kisser. He explains that he lives in Bali because his business is import-export, "which you can do anywhere" - although later, he explains she must move to Bali because "I live in Bali because my business is here." They've both forgotten what he said earlier. Unless perhaps you can do import-export anywhere, but you can only import and export from Bali when you live there. That would certainly be my alibi.
The audience I joined was perhaps 80 percent female. I heard some sniffles and glimpsed some tears, and no wonder. "Eat Pray Love" is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue, and it mercifully reverses the life chronology of many people, which is Love Pray Eat.
If only Roberts' warmth, coupled with Javier Bardem's scruffy sexiness as Felipe, were enough to compensate for the folded-map flatness of this production. If only this glossy Eat Pray Love - an armchair journey for these staycation times - didn't amount to a whole lot of navel-gazing about problems that, absent the author's unique narrative language, don't nearly fill up the 133-minute space the movie version allots. A prelude establishes the disintegration of Liz's marriage (to a warring spouse played by Billy Crudup), which falls apart for reasons never satisfactorily explained (in the book, the author didn't even try - the mess just was). Then it's on to Liz's less-than-convincing pre-divorce romance (with James Franco as a - what else? - cute young actor), which disintegrates under similar circumstances of who-knows-what. And then, All aboard!, the movie chugs from country to country, port of enlightenment to port of enlightenment, with a kind of dogged, tour-group energy. Touchdown in each locale is announced via touristic world-music selections; we know, for example, that Liz is about to meet Felipe when the samba music cues up. The director also favors ambiance shots of gesticulating Italians, scrambling street-urchin Indian kids, and gentle farming Indonesians. And he falls for a tacky, chick-flick sequence (or maybe it's a fat-free-yogurt commercial) in which Liz and a new European girlfriend, bound by a vow to forget calorie counts and love carbs, try to zip up new jeans.
With a running time of 140 minutes that feels even longer, the film is hardly the playful frolic you'd hope for from Murphy, whose Glee is often 42 of the most joyous minutes on television. But Gilbert devotees should be thrilled with the film. Eat Pray Love is a lushly photographed adaptation that glosses over some details (like the fact that Liz got an advance to write about her spiritual journey) and takes the liberty of creating a sensible best-girlfriend character, Liz's publisher Delia (the no-nonsense Viola Davis). But it's otherwise a faithful rendering of Gilbert's text. The food styling is sumptuous - I will dream of something I took to be a zucchini blossom oozing cheese - and the stunning locations include many of the places Gilbert actually frequented, among them Ketut's house in Bali.
The problem for me with the film is that it feels too superficial. Ryan Murphy who directed and co-wrote the script (with Jennifer Salt, daughter of blacklisted writer Waldo Salt) is known now for his huge TV hit Glee. What Glee accomplishes so well (and what is lacking here) is the layers to each character and its heart. Heart is very difficult to describe and harder to accomplish. It's like lightning in a bottle. Glee has it. You feel for them. You are on their side. You want them to succeed. Here in Eat Pray Love you don't feel that heart. I don't know if it's Julia (who I liked) or Murphy but you never really care about what happens to Liz. That's a big problem.
I know (and write about) the lack of films that tell stories about women, our lives, our concerns and our fears. It's not that I disliked the film, I had a fine time, it just didn't move me the way I expected or hoped. On the other hand, this movie is leagues above Sex and the City 2 so those who were put off by that film and the reviews should feel comfortable plunking their $10 or $12 bucks down for this.
The double standard in Hollywood may be stronger than ever. Men are free to pursue all kinds of adventures, while women are expected to pursue men. In a typical big-studio romantic comedy the heroine's professional ambition may not always be an insurmountable obstacle to matrimony, but her true fulfillment - not just her presumed happiness but also the completion of her identity - will come only at the altar.
This paradigm is, of course, much older than the movies, but it can be refreshing, now and then, to see something different in the multiplex: a movie that takes seriously (or for that matter has fun with) a woman's autonomy, her creativity, her desire for something other than a mate.
All that eye candy aside, though, "Eat Pray Love" can't be described as a home run. At least during the movie's first third, Murphy doesn't stop moving his camera, compulsively swooping it around and perching it above the action as if it were a neurotic bird of prey. The perspective is at its most jangled in Italy, where Gilbert is supposed to discover the joys of Italy's language, food and "joy in doing nothing." But Murphy, American that he is, doesn't slow down long enough to convey the country's sensuous pleasures or to flesh out the personalities of the friends Gilbert meets while pursuing them.
Her supporting characters get a little more time in India, where Gilbert meets the expansive "Richard from Texas," played here by Richard Jenkins in a scene-stealing turn as a broken man healing his scars through bravado and spiritual seeking. It's in India, too, that "Eat Pray Love's" most affecting sequence transpires, as Gilbert makes peace with her ex-husband, played by Billy Crudup in a thankless but accomplished performance. (For the record, James Franco plays the post-divorce boyfriend, bringing every ounce of irresistible boyish charisma to the task.)
In the India section of the story, Richard Jenkins pretty much steals "Eat Pray Love" away from Roberts as the hippie Texan who serves as the voice of reason when Liz is feeling lonely and sorry for herself. She accuses him of talking in bumper stickers - which the script from Murphy and Jennifer Salt is frequently guilty of, as well - but he shakes things up and, more crucially, delivers one hell of a monologue in which he describes what led him to the ashram. Jenkins is such an intelligent, honest actor, he makes every moment feel authentic. He kind of makes you want to see a movie about his character instead.
Beautiful as it is, the Bali section is overlong and it wraps up the film with the kind of romantic comedy cliches that, for the most part, were blissfully absent from the first two-thirds. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, though, "Eat Pray Love" will make you want to head out for wine and pasta with your girlfriends afterward. Any excuse will do, and this is a good one.
"Eat Pray Love" was never going to be an easy adaptation given how interior a story Gilbert crafted. The book's self-help, self-absorbed qualities, which made a publishing hit, threaten sentimental mush on the big screen, and there are times when the film comes close. A few characters have been streamlined, others have been dropped, but Murphy and screenwriting partner Jennifer Salt, stay true to the spirit and construction of the source, and that is part of what takes the film off track.
Liz's inner voice, which drives the book, turns into extensive voice-over, which Roberts handles well enough. But the conceit of narration cheats the character development time, which would have made for a richer film. You feel this most acutely in Italy, the first leg of the journey. The film never finds its footing there - there's virtually no connection between Liz and the cast of characters that flow into her life, and almost no story. India, however, is made worthwhile by Jenkins, an actor of extraordinary range who makes the folksy recovering Richard someone you'd want to spend time reflecting with. Bali is saved by Subiyanto, who is delightful as the smiling and nearly toothless ancient healer, and Bardem, whose potent screen presence makes anything look absolutely right for the moment.
Love comes in the form of a sexy Brazilian (Javier Bardem) getting over his own divorce, who literally runs into Elizabeth with a Jeep.
Like all of the other characters in this movie — including Viola Davis, criminally wasted as Elizabeth's stereotypical, straight-talking African-American best friend, and several condescendingly played natives — this guy exists primarily as a concept. So she can tell him: "I do not need to love you to love myself."
Though I tend to doubt it, it's possible that "Eat Pray Love" could have worked with a different star or a less deferential director.
While Liz does eat, pray, and love in the movie, mostly what she does is talk. She talks to her friends, she talks to her husband and boyfriend, she talks to strangers she meets in her travels, she talks to herself. When she's not talking out loud, we are hearing voice-over narration (much of it taken verbatim from the book), or the contents of the e-mails she writes, or the dialogue from a presumably autobiographical play she has written. Either director Ryan Murphy doesn't trust himself enough to dramatize Liz's emotional journey or he doesn't trust Roberts to reveal her character's feelings through gesture and expression, because he doesn't leave a single thought unspoken, a single emotion unarticulated. When Liz watches a wedding in India, we not only see a flashback to Liz's own wedding, we also hear a friend say, "Are you thinking about your own wedding? Me, too." Thanks for clearing that up.