A few years ago, Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" could be found in nearly every airplane, beach bag and purse in America. The book is Gilbert's account of a yearlong journey she took to Italy, India and Bali to restore balance in her life. The source material will likely dissuade many from director Ryan Murphy's film adaptation, but a strong lead performance by Julia Roberts turns what could have been a travelogue for Liz's spiritual vacation into something sporadically relatable.
Stuck in what outwardly appears an ideal life, Liz has a great job as a traveling writer, a kind husband (Billy Crudup) and a house with room to expand the family. Liz realizes that despite her best intentions, she has lost her passion for life, and decides to end her marriage. She then tries dating a young, spiritual thespian (James Franco), but the discontent returns after a few months. Fearful that she will become a soulless Stepford wife, Liz decides to travel for a year, stopping in Italy to eat, India to pray and Bali to rethink love.
Though I have not read Gilbert's memoir, I can attest that the food in Italy is delicious. Liz's time in Rome is spent eating, sightseeing and eating some more, and Eat Pray Love features gorgeous shots of the Colosseum, Tuscan countryside and Roberts enjoying local cuisine like spaghetti, beef Carpaccio and espresso. Despite an annoying sequence in which Liz and her friend get "big girl" jeans after putting on a few pounds, the Italy section is the most entertaining of the film, and it is easy to understand why Liz is rejuvenated by the rich Italian culture.
After a few months, Liz moves on to an ashram in India to meditate and regain spiritual balance under a guru recommended by Franco's character. The film makes clear that Liz is not a religious person, and she must work to find some meaning in the process. She meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), a man from Texas who lost his family to vice, who is working to forgive himself for a wasted life. Richard's story is nothing revolutionary, but it emphasizes that Liz's troubles are far less serious. This is the most melodramatic section of the film, and I found it the least fulfilling. Liz's final stop is Bali, where she visits a medicine man who once told her she would return to teach him English. Liz manages to achieve a shaky balance again, but stumbles after meeting Felipe (Javier Bardem), a dashing local in the running for world's best dad.
Liz's decision to leave prescribed society is either brave and admirable or selfish and unrealistic, depending on whom you ask. The supporting characters in Eat Pray Love are often the skeptics, something I found lent a great deal of credibility to the film. Liz devastates her husband when she blindsides him with divorce papers, and he labels her a quitter for never allowing him to address any of the problems in their marriage. But the mood changes when the film sneaks in a flashback to Liz's wedding in which her husband changes the music for their first dance. This short scene clarifies that being a nice guy is not equivalent to being the right guy. And Liz's best friend Delia (Viola Davis) wonders what will happen if Liz's globetrotting fails to end her unhappiness.
For all its moments of eye-rolling empowerment, Eat Pray Love remains topically relatable. Many people fantasize about leaving their spouse or a job they hate and rebooting on a sandy beach. But such discontentment can be emotionally devastating, and Eat Pray Love tends to gloss over the rough stuff. Liz is at various points in the film depressed, anxious and sad, but I never truly believed her character was in any danger of avoiding a happy ending. I suspect that Gilbert did experience periods of hopelessness, and I would have liked Eat Pray Love to risk going a little darker and show these on screen.
Director Murphy (creator of Nip/Tuck and Glee) has a strong eye for cinema, and Eat Pray Love is far more polished that most directors' second theatrical film. Murphy uses the camera to place viewers in each scene, and it remains largely in motion, buzzing around the room in dialogue-heavy scenes, sweeping through gorgeous landscape shots and bouncing around in chaotic Bali. This unique filming style is never distracting, and it elevates material that could have been shot in a static, boring manner. Murphy also chooses some great music from artists like Eddie Vedder and Neil Young for the soundtrack, which becomes its own character.
The talent on board for Eat Pray Love swings another vote in its favor. Roberts can do things and seem charming that lesser actresses would get crucified for. She never makes Liz a martyr or worthy of ridicule, but embraces the material earnestly. Crudup and Franco are especially good in their small parts, and neither leaves their relationship with Liz unscathed. Bardem also is excellent, and grounds a character who is almost too perfect.
Eat Pray Love will not be everyone's cup of tea. I found myself struggling to relate to the characters and material at times, but was surprised when this feeling faded throughout the film. What problems I have with the story relate to the source material, as Liz's journey feels both commendable and overwrought. But even when the emotion is not there, Eat Pray Love is certainly pretty to look at.
Both the theatrical version of the film (140 minutes) and a director's cut (146 minutes) are included via seamless branching.
Eat Pray Love is a visually stunning film, and Sony's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does not disappoint. The film is bright and cheerful, and the transfer mirrors this with bold colors and lots of detail. Skin tones are warm but accurate, and the image has a pleasing depth to it throughout. No signs of digital tampering pop up, and the image has great texture. Blacks could be slightly deeper, and I noticed a few moments where the contrast seemed a bit high, but, overall, this is an excellent transfer.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly boisterous. Although much of the film is front-loaded and dialogue-heavy, the surrounds come alive in scenes like those in an Italian market or in Indonesian traffic. Dialogue is crystal clear, as is the wonderful soundtrack, which fills out the entire soundscape. A French 5.1 and an English descriptive surround track are available, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Sony only offers one measly extra, Ryan Murphy's Journey with Eat Pray Love (4:20). This short promotional featurette hardly scratches the surface of the filmmaking process, and features little insight other than director Murphy's affection for Gilbert's novel. The lack of behind-the-scenes footage is disappointing for a film that shot on location in four countries.
Gelato and meditation may not solve life's problems for everyone, but they seemed to work for Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat Pray Love, the film adaptation of Gilbert's wildly popular memoir, walks a thin line between uplifting and eye-rolling, but is more often than not enjoyable and relatable with Julia Roberts in the lead and director Ryan Murphy behind the camera. Some will adore Eat Pray Love, others will not, but the film looks and sounds great on Sony's DVD. Recommended.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.