A movie so enthusiastically insipid it makes the Sex and the City films look like the first two Godfathers, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir is 141 minutes of unmitigated, chick-flick hell.
Julia Roberts hits a career low in the role of the author, a successful Manhattan journalist who leaves her husband (Billy Crudup) for reasons never coherently explained, and then leaves the country to wallow in the breakup pain she herself caused.
As she travels the world first class, Liz becomes convinced that she’s not merely a privileged tourist but a deep and sensitive seeker of truths — one whose insights must be shared with mankind. So she talks her publisher (Viola Davis) into giving her a hefty cash advance for a book documenting her journey of self-discovery.
The plan is to divide a year into three camera-friendly experiments: indulging in the culinary delights of Italy; meditating at an ashram in India; and then traveling to Bali, where the goal is less clear but has something to do with striking a balance between pleasure seeking and devotion. (We know in reality it will have more to do with striking up a relationship with Javier Bardem. We’ve seen the ads.)
The Rome chapter is basically an Olive Garden commercial with philosophical pretensions. Liz befriends a group of generic Italians who expound at length on the soul-nourishing benefits of food and drink. They talk and mangiano with gusto, and in one scene Roberts’ character demonstrates her attainment of nirvana by consuming an entire pizza (my God!) and then buying bigger jeans.
The India chapter is every bit as self-serious and silly, with the exception of a handful of scenes the star shares with a gruff Texan played by the great Richard Jenkins. He nicknames her “Groceries” because of her appetite (magically, Roberts never appears to gain any actual weight), and spouts nonstop bumper stickers such as “You want to get to the castle, you’ve got to swim the moat.”
The scene in which Jenkins shares the secret of his previous life as an alcoholic is so raw and real it feels inserted from some other film. The rest of the section involves Roberts wearing colorful native fashions and sitting cross-legged until the day enlightenment arrives. “God lives in me,” she announces in voice-over, “as me.” OK.
And we’re on to Bali, where Liz befriends a colorful collection of locals but hits the romantic jackpot when Bardem literally hits her with his vehicle (a plot device which, I should note, was also recently employed in Dinner for Schmucks). I was surprised the actor didn’t make his entrance until the movie’s final moments — but then, I suppose, I was surprised he made a paycheck appearance like this one at all. It’s little more than a Hollywood riff on the part Bardem played in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The outcome of his chance encounter with Roberts is never in doubt.
I haven’t read the book. I hear it’s written in an engaging style, but, by all accounts, Murphy and cowriter Jennifer Salt fail to capture its charm. The result is the most overpriced, overhyped Lifetime feature film ever. It may have been made by a major studio, but, believe me, Eat Pray Love is destined for small-screen rotation where it will Disappoint Bore Annoy. What’s the point of traveling the world to prove you don’t require a relationship to give your life meaning — only to claim you’ve discovered the meaning of life when you stumble into a new one?