Monday, August 16, 2010

Movie Review: Eat Pray Love

Eat, Pray, Love **
Directed By:
Ryan Murphy.
Written By: Ryan Murphy & Jennifer Salt based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Starring: Julia Roberts (Liz Gilbert), Javier Bardem (Felipe), Richard Jenkins (Richard from Texas), James Franco (David Piccolo), Billy Crudup (Stephen), Viola Davis (Delia Shiraz), Hadi Subiyanto (Ketut Liyer), Mike O'Malley (Andy Shiraz), Welker White (Andrea Sherwood), Tuva Novotny (Sofi), Luca Argentero (Giovanni), Giuseppe Gandini (Luca Spaghetti).

Eat Pray Love is about a woman in her 40s who acts like a teenager. She is a successful writer whose job takes her to places around the world to write travel articles. She lives in a great house in New York, has a good looking husband who loves her, even if he is a flake, and has a great support system of friends. And yet, she is completely and totally unhappy and complains constantly about feeling “disconnected”. So what does she do? She decides to take a year off of work to travel the world and “find herself”. Watching the film I couldn’t help but think of all the people in the world who have real problems. Who are working two jobs to try to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of their children. Why the hell should I care about a spoiled rich woman who has a great life and still does nothing but complain. I understand why the book was such a bestseller among women - because it is essentially a fantasy for most people who dream of having the opportunities that this woman had.

Julia Roberts plays Liz Gilbert, who wrote this memoir of her own life. And while I have never been a huge fan of Roberts, I have to say that in “movie star” roles like this there are few actresses better right now. Roberts is charming and funny and she carries the movie well. Without Roberts at her most charming, I thin this movie could have been downright unwatchable. With her, it mostly agreeable if you don’t bother to think about it.

Gilbert leaves her latest boy toy (James Franco), and heads to Rome to four months where she spends most of her time eating and bonding with friends who seem to have nothing better to do with their days than to set around with her all day every day. After those four months of relaxation, she heads to India, and spends another few months learning to meditate with a Hindu guru. There she meets a fellow American (Richard Jenkins), also looking for inner peace. But he has real problems - his alcoholism ruined his marriage, robbed him of his children, and put everyone he loves in danger. Jenkins is great in his small role - had the whole movie been about his character and his quest for spiritual enlightenment, they really might have had something here. After she has learned the art of meditation, she heads to Bali and gets a gorgeous house rental, studies with medicine man, and meets and falls in love with an even more gorgeous, sensitive divorced man (Javier Bardem). And through this year of non stop personal indulgence, what does Gilbert do more than anything else? Complain.

There things to admire about this movie. Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes these three already gorgeous locations (four if you count New York, and since it is even more romanticized here than in any Woody Allen movie I have ever seen, I would) look impossibly beautiful. It is easy to get lost in the surface of the film, which is charming and fun and great to look at. If you turn your brain off and simply go with it - engaging with the movie as a mere fantasy, you may actually like it. And I suspect that women are going to like the movie a lot more than men. I’m sure that many women have wanted to chuck everything in their lives out and spend a year traveling the world. But most women don’t have that option.

Co-written and directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy, Eat Pray Love is a movie that I certainly didn’t hate as much as perhaps I have made it sound. Roberts is charming, Jenkins is brilliant and Javier Bardem smoulders wonderfully as Roberts new man. It is a movie that is a pleasure to look at. But Murphy never really finds the right tone for the film - the tone that would make us forget that this is essentially a story about a spoiled brat of a middle aged woman who still wants to act like a teenage - believing the whole world revolves around her and we should all be interested in that struggle. It is possible to make a movie about a rich, successful woman dealing with her insecurities - the recent indie film Please Give is an example. But that movie felt honest and real. Eat Pray Love is anything but.

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