by KYW’s Bill Wine —
The title has commas missing, but the movie itself is missing quite a bit more.
Eat Pray Love is a lethargic screen adaptation of the best-selling 2006 travel memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert about a woman’s one-year journey of self-discovery that delivers glossy, picture-postcard prettiness but is so relaxed and indulgent that we bail long before the trip is over.
If ever a fragile, problematic movie needed the charismatic presence of a major star to keep us at least casually involved, it’s this one. And Julia Roberts contributes that.
But the movie sports the same major problem that the book apparently did for detractors. Obviously, many readers, mostly female, found the book inspiring. But many others found it insufferable and patronizing to anyone without the means to take an adult “timeout” from her life.
The movie never makes you forget that this is a story about a woman of means, a financially secure New York writer on assignment.
In other words: rooting for the underdog just ain’t in the cards, folks.
Roberts stars as a despondent divorcée who realizes that her life must go in a wholly new direction. She must let herself go… around the world.
So she takes a year-long sabbatical for a soul-searching journey in search of contentment, inner peace, and her self that takes her to Italy, India, and Bali, where she re-learns how to eat, pray, and love — in that order and at that location respectively.
Her supporting cast is more than competent: Billy Crudup is Stephen, the ex-hubby. Viola Davis is Delia, her editor. James Franco is a young actor with whom she has an affair. Richard Jenkins is Richard, her meditation mentor. And Javier Bardem plays the Brazilian-born Australian whom she is drawn to in Bali.
The narrative, as shaped by co-writer (with Jennifer Salt) and director Ryan Murphy (Running with Scissors, TV’s “Glee,” and “Nip/Tuck”), is not only disjointed and misguidedly passive, but doesn’t provide an involving enough story to allow the theme to emerge beyond the level of fortune-cookie philosophising.
Roberts, in her first lead role in a decade in a movie that can be described as a Julia Roberts flick, is always a welcome sight, but even she cannot raise the level of the film’s game beyond that of a smug travelogue.
Roberts’ natural charm allows her to make this wealthy and whining woman winning enough from moment to moment, but as soon as we take a moment to step back, our impatience and dissatisfaction with her as a protagonist kicks in.
Sorry, but as much as we may like watching this actress act, we just do not love watching this character eat and pray. Or even love.
In a summer movie season dominated by loud, mindless popcorn thrillers, it’s refreshing to have a quiet, contemplative alternative. But while it celebrates the “sweetness of doing nothing,” this movieization falls far too short of the sweetness of doing something compelling.
So we’ll travel to 2 stars out of 4. Its respectable surface production values notwithstanding, this search-for-enlightenment drama doesn’t inspire as it seeks to.
Three-word review of Eat Pray Love? Watch Wait Dismiss.