Finding solace in the Italian language, the teachings of a boyfriend’s guru and the prophecy she once received from a Balinese medicine man, she sets off on a year-long trip that will teach her pleasure in Italy, spirituality in India, and a means to balance the two in Indonesia.
Based on the esteemed novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, the story has already accumulated a considerable fanbase around the world – the book has been a mainstay on the New York Times Bestseller list for an incredible 187 weeks. Humbling, funny and achingly honest, Gilbert chronicles her recovery, new-found indulgences and burgeoning spirituality in a way that is compelling while, at times miraculously, never hokey.
I cannot say I have ever ascribed to the often recited ‘the book is better’ mantra which reliably haunts the release of any adaptation; I can appreciate the strengths of the Harry Potter movies and was lost in awe at Peter Jackson’s foray into Middle Earth. However, while scenes and chapters can generally be added or discarded without jeopardising narrative integrity, there is one thing a successful adaptation must never lose in translation: theme.
You might not have expected this to be a problem for a movie which, like its authored forebear, bears its themes in the title. However, Ryan Murphy (complete with his trademark cheese – for better or worse) has nevertheless confused the message which Gilbert travelled the globe to realise.
Amidst all of the food-porn, postcard-perfect locations and bumper-sticker philosophy, Eat Pray Love never really emanates the desperation, heart or wonder that radiated from the source novel in such abundance – resulting in a surprisingly hollow experience. With the movie telling audiences they can’t be happy without another half – the creator of Glee has not only confused Gilbert’s conclusion, but inverted it.
That said, the movie succeeds on a number of levels. Taken on its own, Eat Pray Love boasts an astonishing central performance from Julia Roberts. Her Liz is relatable, intriguing and enigmatic – the perfect throughline for a movie constantly in flux as it uproots from one culture to another. The supporting performances are similarly competent; Richard Jenkins’ Richard from Texas and Javier Bardem’s love interest providing perfect foils for Roberts’ earnest, if sometimes cringe-worthy, musings. It also has some heartfelt and moving moments, with the portion set in Rome escaping relatively unscathed compared to other sections of the narrative.
At 140 minutes, though, the film is too long, with characters coming and going (which gives this true story a strangely staged feel – as though they are serving some intricate ‘plot’), sudden changes in location and an overuse of voice-over; the film often lacks momentum, particularly in the beginning before the quest has even begun.
While it is easy to see why Murphy has left so much in (you must empathise with Liz before she embarks on her no-expenses-spared world trip or not at all), his reluctance to cut scenes leads to eventual disengagement due to ass-cramp – a failing no amount of montages can remedy.
Considering it was the movie’s first Florence + the Machine infused trailer that spurred me into reading the book, it seems strange to criticise the film for failing to move or inspire me the same way its source material did. While it took me a while to accept the books inherent mysticism, the spirituality is undeservedly diluted for cinema audiences, the dialing down of the story’s Pray element resulting in an unforgivably forgettable experience while inadvertently sullying the numerous teachings in their uncontextualised brevity.
This, however, is a review of the film itself. Excellent casting, bright and evanescent visuals, and an assortment of consistently outstanding performances go some way to offset the bloated pace, botched cameos and indulgent direction. This is by no means a bad movie, it just isn’t a particularly great movie either.
With more sight-seeing than soul-searching, Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love is regardless a feel-good film with enough substance to keep the majority entertained while Julia Roberts eats, prays and loves. While the story’s inherent spiritualism may prove too much for some, Eat Pray Love promises witty and intelligent, if indulgent, entertainment for anyone willing to give it a go. For maximum appreciation, however, and a better understanding of this incredible true story, let the movie wait for a week and treat yourself to one of the most incredible memoirs this decade has to offer.