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Home » Movies

Movie Review: EAT PRAY LOVE

Submitted by on August 11, 2010 – 1:57 am 19 Comments

I went into a screening of Eat Pray Love on an empty stomach, which was foolish because it growled in protest every time Julia Roberts took a bite of luscious pasta, cheese-oozing pizza or moist-looking turkey. By the time the movie ended, though, I realized it wasn’t just a feast for my eyes but an emotionally fulfilling experience as well.

Since Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir sold a bazillion copies worldwide, I’ll assume you’ve either read or have heard of it. If not, here’s a quick rundown: Gilbert, a thirtysomething writer, realizes she’s unhappy in her marriage, gets divorced and decides to devote a year to finding herself by traveling first to Italy (eating without counting calories), then India (praying and meditating) and Bali (learning to love again). She tells stories about the people she met along the way, her struggles to feel connected to something, and her eventual enlightenment.

The book is funnier than the movie because the former has a lot more of Gilbert’s voice and she often made fun of herself. Director/co-writer (with Jennifer Salt) Ryan Murphy’s adaptation contains some voiceover narration but has a more melancholy feel while retaining Gilbert’s warmth and spirit. The locations are lushly captured by Robert Richardson and the score by Dario Marianelli is evocative of each country Gilbert visits.

Roberts turns in a deeply affecting portrayal of a woman in transition. Her face is luminous and transparent, with every emotion clearly visible even when she tries to suppress them. In a scene when Felipe (Javier Bardem), the man she meets in Bali, confronts her about her feelings for him, Roberts’s eyes reveal pure terror at the realization she might be falling for him, something she wasn’t prepared for. She stands there speechless for a moment, tamping down the panic, but it’s all there and I felt it in my chest. This performance is less flashy but more full-bodied than the one of Erin Brockovich (it seems she does her best work playing real women) and deserves another Oscar nomination.

Bardem, though way too young to play Felipe, has the necessary charisma to break Gilbert out of her self-imposed celibacy. He’s not conventionally handsome, with bulging eyes that can be unsettling as we saw in No Country for Old Men, but he can also make those eyes seductive as he does here. His Felipe is a sweet romantic who doesn’t come on too strong, his breezy banter not quite covering the emotional scars from his own divorce.

Other supporting roles are filled by rock-solid actors like James Franco as Gilbert’s young boyfriend David, Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas (who died earlier this year; he answered a few questions for me last year about the movie and later asked if I knew how he could get a cameo), Viola Davis as Gilbert’s friend Delia, and Hadi Subiyanto, a real find as the Balinese medicine man Ketut. Billy Crudup moved me as Gilbert’s ex-husband, Stephen, a decent man who loves her and doesn’t understand why she no longer reciprocates. Some of the complaints I heard about the book were about how Gilbert seems selfish for giving up a husband for no obvious reasons but that’s one of the things I appreciated about her story. Gilbert refused to paint him as a jerk and Crudup follows her lead. Sometimes two people just aren’t compatible. Leaving a monster is an easy decision; it’s much scarier to walk away from a good person wondering if you did the right thing.

The movie runs about 2:15 but the length is justified, giving Gilbert a chance to absorb each country she visits and allowing us to do the same. I enjoyed the vicarious journey and never once looked at my watch, which means I must’ve learned something from Gilbert: how to stay present.

Nerd verdict: Go See Love

Photos © Columbia Pictures

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19 Comments »

  • jenn says:

    I read and finished this book but could not stand Gilbert. It wasn’t so much leaving her husband; I don’t care nor is it my business why. What bothered me was her voice. She was so whiny and privileged and obnoxious, I couldn’t stand it. I came away with a bitter taste in my mouth, though I loved the premise (as an avid traveler).

    When I heard the movie was coming out, I wasn’t that excited. But when I began to see previews, I thought – I have to see it! Julia Roberts makes Gilbert seem more accessible to me. I’ve never been a huge fan,but it seems to me this is one I’ll definitely need to see. In fact, I’ve already tagged my best friend to go watch it this weekend.

    Good review, and I’m glad to know it’s worth my time and money. (I agree Bardem is too young. Casting, anyone?)

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I found Gilbert winning and witty and think the polarizing effect she had on readers is interesting. I’ve heard people say she didn’t have “real” problems and didn’t have the right to complain since she wasn’t on welfare, suffering from debilitating illness, etc. I don’t think the “right” to be unhappy belongs solely to the underprivileged or those going through unimaginably terrible things. It’s not a competition to see who has the worst problems and those who don’t win need to shut up. Depression doesn’t discriminate.

      Gilbert said in an interview that Roberts makes people want to root for her, implying that you can dislike Gilbert and still like Roberts’s portrayal, so let me know if this is true for you!

      As for alternatives for Felipe, the only other choice I could think of is Antonio Banderas. He’s 50 so more age appropriate if nothing else.

      • TLZ says:

        Totally agree! A few years ago, I found myself in the same position as Gilbert — newly divorced and so depressed I couldn’t drag myself out of bed some days. And I was the one who wanted the divorce! When you go through a life-altering event (divorce, severe illness, death, etc) you are never the same as who you were before. To say that she was whiny and self-absorbed is ignorant and good luck to them when they are in that position!

      • jenn says:

        I don’t dispute that she had “real” problems. Nor do I think she didn’t have the right to complain/be depressed after her divorce. Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun is a good example. It was just that the constant complaining about absolutely everything while she was on a year-long sabbatical with no monetary worries was a bit tough to take. I get that she did some good things (toward the end where she helps her friend). It was just really painful getting there.

        That’s my point (Gilbert v. Roberts) as well. Seeing the snippets of Roberts – well, she seems much more likable. Ooh, Banderas would have been great.

  • EIREGO says:

    Yeah, guess I will be dragged to go see it by my girlfriend. LOL! Seriously glad you liked it, because, as I always say, “If PCN gives something a positive review, then you can trust it.”

    At least I won’t be bored off my ass watching what I was sure would be just another chick flick.

  • le0pard13 says:

    I’ll check with She-who-must-be-obeyed to see if she’d like to go to this eat-fest ;-). Thanks for the review, Elyse.

  • I didn’t read the book, Elyse. As much as I like food and travel books, it just didn’t move me. But, I do plan to see the movie, particularly after reading your review. (And, I’ll definitely eat something before I go. Thanks for that heads-up.)

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Definitely have a nice dinner beforehand, Lesa! I was SO hungry I wanted to reach through the screen and steal some bread sticks from her table in one scene.

      I’d be interested in your thoughts about the movie compared to your reaction to the book.

  • I struggled through parts of the book and found myself “taking or leaving” Gilbert at times, but had plenty of “A-ha” moments as well. All in all, I felt like I was sharing her experiences in a genuine way. I wondered how the movie would be, though, with Julia Roberts in the role ~ much as she lights up the screen, I felt it could have been a nice chance to cast someone less gorgeous, and perhaps a newcomer. And I really scratched my head at the casting of Javier Bardem as Felipe, someone considerably older. But I think I’ll go along and try to forget about the book and just enjoy this as ‘inspired by’ the book. {Ahem, I’m happy to watch Javier Bardem regardless of his age, or lack thereof. I guess they aren’t entirely silly in their casting logic.}

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I just read an article in the paper this morning about how deliberate the casting was. The producers wanted each actor to bring a “different segment of the audience” to the movie. Like you, I thought Bardem’s casting didn’t make sense age-wise but he’s so charismatic, I’m not objecting too strenuously!

  • Bailey says:

    Although this movie (and the performances) were well done, I rate this movie: “Julie & Julia Syndrome”……..both were commendable, but PERSONALLY, I was bored out of my mind. Both offer character-study-insight, but were both flat & linear, without much substance of a story.

  • Naomi Johnson says:

    I think I would find it hard to relate to a character who can afford to just chuck it all and travel for a year because her marriage went bust. I’d love to do that myself, and I’m not married unhappily or otherwise, but I’m pretty sure I’d resent the hell out of watching someone else doing that instead of me. It’s petty, but there you are: I’m not a nice person.

  • Naomi Johnson says:

    Sure, sure. I just don’t know any people like that.

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