thu 14/12/2017

Eat Pray Love | reviews, news & interviews

Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love

Julia Roberts takes a Sunday-supplement excursion to three kinds of paradise

A picaresque reverie: Julia Roberts plus eye candy in 'Eat Pray Love'

Julia Roberts takes a long time to find her centre in Eat Pray Love, a glossy adaptation of the Elizabeth Gilbert memoir that, while offering a respite from the usual cinematic diet of reboots, remakes and comic-book blockbusters, ends up being just as simplistic and facile as its box-office competition.

Female audiences are traditionally starved of gender-targeted product, so some might regard Ryan Murphy’s gentle travelogue a welcome corrective to the prevailing trend. After nearly two-and-a-half hours of soporific navel-gazing, however, even the most ardent fan of Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller will be desperate for some mindless action and juvenile fantasy.

No amount of carbs and sauces will have the slightest impact on a movie star’s waistline

Murphy’s film has a formidable hurdle to overcome at the very beginning, having as it does to persuade us that Julia’s Liz – a successful journalist with a doting husband, an elegant New York home and all the accoutrements of wealthy bourgeois living – is a creature deserving of our sympathy. Pause sceptically at this initial stumbling block and Roberts’s Damascan realisation that her life is hollow and worthless will sound as phoney as an X-Factor contestant on Auto-Tune.

Leaving her hubby, Roberts embarks on a shallow affair with James Franco’s actor – feeling sorry for her yet, girls? – before realising what she really needs is a year-long vacation in exotic countries – Italy, India and Indonesia – that all rather conveniently begin with the letter I. What follows is an unapologetically episodic affair, a triptych of sorts divided between the three verbs that make up the film’s title.

Thus we see Julia sensually sample the joys of pizza and pasta in Rome and Naples, a Mediterranean adventure peddling the comforting notion that no amount of carbs and sauces will have the slightest impact on a movie star’s waistline. That’s followed by a stay at an Indian ashram where Liz gets gruff advice from a fellow American (Richard Jenkins) attempting to atone for years lost to alcoholism.

Eat_Pray_LoveFrom there we jet off to Bali, where Liz is knocked off her bike by a car and promptly falls for its dashing Brazilian driver (Javier Bardem). Along the way we get plenty of nuggets of wisdom via Roberts’s consoling voiceover, a device that – in attempting to replicate Gilbert’s authorial voice – merely serves to suggest one would be better off reading the book.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has tried to woo the XX demographic, something it usually does with Diane Lane (see Under the Tuscan Sun and Nights in Rodanthe) or the Sex and the City ladies. One thinks too of writer-director Nancy Meyers, who has practically built her career on cosy upscale romcoms (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) in which women of a certain age discover you’re never too old to desire or be desired.

Being based on its writer’s real-life experience, one might hope for Eat Pray Love to have a touch more authenticity than such patently artificial concoctions. If anything, though, the opposite holds true, Murphy neglecting no opportunities to make Julia’s extended trip a picaresque reverie utterly free from the hassles and hardships such a jaunt would inevitably engender. Travel with Julia and you’re in a world of flawless service, perfect sunsets and five-star accommodation. Not only that, but you get Mr Penelope Cruz thrown in! Suffice to say that it’s not the sort of holiday you’d get at Thomas Cook.

OK, so no one wants to see Julia losing her bags in transit, arguing with waiters or vomiting her guts out in an Asian loo. Yet it’s hard to take her quest for inner peace seriously when it’s attained with so little cost and hardship. The Pray section seems particularly bogus in this regard, Murphy and his co-writer Jennifer Salt choosing to promote an all-purpose amalgam of Eastern spirituality over any real contemplation of religious dogma or orthodoxy. It’s just another example of how easy Roberts has things on her Sunday-supplement excursion to three different kinds of paradise.

Watch the Eat Pray Love trailer (YouTube):

Being based on its writer’s real-life experience, one might hope for Eat Pray Love to have a touch more authenticity than such patently artificial concoctions

Share this article

Comments

Very interesting. I am reading the book now and am contemplating whether or not to see the movie. I've made the mistake of seeing other movie adaptations prior to reading the original text and have been disappointed by the missed opportunity to allow my imagination to run freely. I made a conscious effort to not allow that to happen this time. So I think I will see the movie out of curiosity but I will try my best to keep them separate and not compare them too closely. I think I could appreciate it better that way.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters