If Eat Pray Love teaches us anything, it’s that Rome is perpetually bathed in the soft amber glow of sunset. And that no matter how great (or radiant) Julia Roberts is, she can’t save a 2-1/2 hour meditation on life from being a snoozefest.
Based on Liz Gilbert’s best-selling memoir (I’ll cop to never reading it), Eat Pray Love tells the story of a forty-something woman who gets divorced and decides to go on a culinary/spiritual journey to Italy, India, and Bali.
Unfortunately, as exciting as that may (or may not) sound, nothing ever happens. Sure, Gilbert (Roberts) meets all kinds of new friends, but they’re all just so accommodating and cheery that not a one of them is actually believable. And she also goes through a few guys, including (ex-)husband Stephen (Billy Crudup), fling David (James Franco), and dreamy stranger Felipe (Javier Bardem), but they’re all so blandly normal, there’s no really good explanation as to why she would (a) love and (b) leave them.
I’m all for travelogues, especially those of the Italian variety (Letters to Juliet was one of the clear standouts in the first half of the year), but pretty pictures of the Italian countryside can only take you so far. There needs to be conflict, a compelling storyline, and at least a few interesting characters. Eat Pray Love fails on each account.
Even Roberts, who has shown time and time again why she continues to be one of Hollywood’s top stars, can’t save this movie. She’s perfectly lovely, but her character’s motivation is never really fleshed-out. She’s right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner with her Italian friends, and boom! all of a sudden she’s tooling through the streets of India. Yes, we know she’s on a spiritual journey, and that she wants to eat in Italy, pray in India, and love in Bali, but somehow that never really feels like enough. And the fact that she never runs into any real obstacles along the way (she even embraces the ‘muffin top’ she’s getting from eating all that gorgeous Italian food), makes for a rather dull experience.
The one standout is Richard Jenkins (Burn After Reading, Step Brothers), who plays a man from Texas visiting the same Calcutta ashram as Gilbert. Though she chides him for ‘speaking in bumper sticker’, his dialogue often feels like the only fresh, inspired lines in the whole script. In fact, it’s everyone else who’s tossing out cheap clichés like they’re yesterday’s newspaper.
I’d love to give director and co-screenwriter Ryan Murphy the benefit of the doubt (he is, after all, the brains behind the very fun and very engaging Fox hit Glee), but none of his usual charm is on display here. It’s almost like he was relying on the sweeping panoramas (and his star) to sell the movie for him. Had he put a little effort into it, there may have actually been something worth watching.
As it is, though, Eat Pray Love is little more than a meandering, uninteresting National Geographic article.