You’ve read the book or know someone who has. Oprah endorsed it and it spent more than three years on the New York Times Bestseller List before Brad Pitt snapped up the rights, hired Julia Roberts and turned it into one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. “Eat Pray Love,” the picturesque story of one woman’s search for enlightenment, is part road trip movie, part self help guide and part food porn. By the movie’s end you may have reservations about her journey, but you’ll also want to make reservations—for a trip and a visit to a great Italian restaurant.
Julia Roberts plays Liz Gilbert, a New York City writer with a seemingly perfect life. Career wise she’s in demand, she has a loving husband (Billy Crudup) and a beautiful home. Under the surface, however, she’s unhappy and one day makes the shocking decision to leave it all behind and spend a year travelling, first to Italy, then India and finally Bali. Along the way she learns to build meaningful relationships, how to forgive herself and how to nourish not only her body but her soul as well.
“Eat Pray Love” is a big expensive movie about introspection. The film’s style is sweeping and bold—ie: lots of crane shots and clever editing—but director Ryan Murphy keeps the focus of the story where it should be, on Liz’s internal search. He has found smart ways to illustrate her various epiphanies, visualizing her mental breakthroughs. For instance on the Indian ashram where she learns to forgive herself for breaking her ex-husband’s heart, Murphy stages the scene between Roberts and Crudup as a conversation during the wedding dance they never had. It’s magic realism, which unless you’re Terry Gilliam, is very hard to pull off, but the scene works remarkably well. It’s both cinematic and intimate, all set to the tune of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
At the heart of the film is Roberts. She brings her movie star likability to a character that could easily be written-off as self centered in her single minded search to figure out her life. Her presence helps separate “Eat Pray Love” from the run-of-the-mill big screen romance. This would have been a much different movie if Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson had signed on to play the lead, but Roberts brings with her a light-gravitas. I know it’s a contradiction, but she knows how to play the comedy aspects of the story but also wades in knee deep for the dramatic scenes. She’s in every scene—almost every frame—of the picture providing an anchor for the film’s flighty story.
She’s working opposite some heavyweight performances. Richard Jenkins as the plain talking Texan searching for enlightenment in India is a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination and Javier Bardem oozes charisma and vulnerability as Felipe, the love interest. He says the words “It’s time,” with more romance there than in any ten rom coms we’ve seen recently.
At one point during the film a character says, “Americans know entertainment but they don’t know pleasure.” “Eat Pray Love” proves that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.