Movies

Movie Review: “Eat Pray Love”

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Even without having read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, “Eat Pray Love,” moviegoers can still have something to look forward to in the film adaptation. At the very least, this film should bear resemblance to Diane Lane’s sunny journey in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” or as pleasant and heartwarming as this year’s travelogues, “Leap Year” and “Letters to Juliet.”

World-travel, on its own, has always had an amazing appeal – learning about different routes of life, history, art, culture, architecture, people, food, and experiencing the kindness of strangers along the way. Born and raised in Indonesia, I was one of those kids who dreamed to travel around the world and believed that there’s something more out there for me.

While the story has all the ingredients of a best-selling book, the film is overwhelmingly underwhelming, not to mention running long past its time for this type of tale. Broken down into three segments (or four, if you count the prologue in New York) – Italy, India, Bali – it sweeps the details of Gilbert’s (Julia Roberts’) life events under the glossy cover.

Roberts (bless her heart), with her warmth and down-to-earth vibe, does the best she can and hopes that we will root for her. The backstory with the husband (Billy Crudup) doesn’t depict the struggles and fights, those irreconcilable differences in a marriage that would lead to her exit. Instead, it’s as if Gilbert wakes up one day and decides she’s fallen out of love.  The only moment where I could feel the emptiness she feels about her life is during her desperate prayer. This is a moment where she asks for guidance from above to tell her what to do.

Hopping into an affair right after the split with her husband, Gilbert jumps into a relationship with a young Broadway actor that looks like James Franco. All her life she’s always in some sort of relationship, so this is not surprising.

The film fails to mention that Gilbert received payment in advance for her globe trotting from her publisher, and it does beg the question whether she would have gone without it. It makes the reality less ‘authentic’ than if she would “go for broke” and embark on the quest “just because.”

A soul-searching journey, the longing to discover more about oneself and something greater resonates well, especially these days where it’s easy to become disillusioned.

Italy embodies the “eat” portion of the book and is a feast for foodies. Aside from the historic ruins and language, the parade of good food and fine wine showcases Italy as a culinary marvel. The hilarious hand-gestures and wee-hours of the morning of Thanksgiving dinner highlight this sojourn. It is true that there’s a difference between pleasure and merely entertainment.

India, “pray,” is in stark contrast to Italy. From the slum to the ashram, it’s certainly a contrast to Italy. India is where the human connections seem most genuine. There’s a moment in time where Gilbert connects with an Indian girl being thrown into an arranged marriage. There are meaningful walks and talks with Richard (Richard Jenkins), an American from Texas who shares his painful past and relationship with his family.

Here Gilbert learns that just because she is at the center of a sacred place, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she would feel more present. All the meditation and devotion won’t do anything as long as she’s in the pity-party mode. Harmony and happiness are not to be pursued; they’re already inside if only she could clear her mind and heart, trust and let things happen.

The beauty of Bali, “love,” is shown through the rain-forests, terraced rice paddies and tropical flowers. Gilbert re-connects with Ketut Liyer, a Balinese palm-reader and healer who she met previously. She gets to know Wayan, a divorced woman with her daughter. Wayan treats Gilbert’s leg injury after her bike was nearly run over by a jeep-driving Brazilian, Felipe (Javier Bardem). Felipe is her soon-to-be lover and husband, which all seems a little out of nowhere and a bit rushed.

In the end, “Eat Pray Love” is passable but not palatable enough. When the interactions among the characters are not believable, it’s hard to care. Instead of genuine emotional healing and spiritual awakening, Gilbert is simply swimming along from on set of events to another. “Eat Pray Love” is more of a romanticized travelogue, rather than a truly transformative one.

Copyright (c) 2010. Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic (rottentomatoes.com/critic/nathalia-aryani). She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

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