In her Washington Post review of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search For Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Grace Lichtenstein quipped that the only thing wrong with Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir “is that it seems so much like a Jennifer Aniston movie.” Lichtenstein misread the book. It’s actually a Julia Roberts movie. It is very much a Julia Roberts movie.
Roberts is ten years older than Gilbert was in her memoir, and this might contribute to the some of what feels off in the comma-excised adaptation of Eat Pray Love, directed by Ryan Murphy, who seems drawn to best-selling memoirs in which privileged people quench their spiritual thirst by trying on alternative lifestyles. Roberts is very youthful and still adorable, but it’s to Roberts’ credit as a human that her Liz seems like she should be a lot smarter by this point in life. Marital disharmony to Billy Crudup sends Liz to prayer, self-help books, and James Franco’s cutie-pie actor, which is how we discover that Gilbert’s also the author of one of the worst plays in the English language.
When none of those remedies serve, the next step is travel—lots of it. Liz’s tours of Italy, Calcutta and Bali hit on each of the titular verbs, though Gilbert forgot to add Shop. A feast of cultural stereotypes and pop psychology bullshit follows. It’s frustrating because it’s not as though most of us can’t relate to Liz’s search for inner balance, and it would be pointless to condemn her for having the means to solve her problems through extended peregrination.
Roberts embodies Liz’s yearning while never succumbing to morbid self-absorption—remember, Roberts was born perky. In fact, Roberts is capable of many things, including smartness, sexiness, even misdirection. As a star, the only thing missing is taste. Things might have worked better without Liz’s voice-over, which starts by telling us that survivors of genocide just want relationship advice and goes downhill from there. Liz becomes didactic by example, though I don’t buy any of her tidy revelations. She’s far more convincing when she’s just having a good time.
Richard Jenkins is nice as an abrasive Texan, until he’s prompted to suddenly spill his guts. Javier Bardem is strangely tough to accept as Brazilian, though I’m not sure if this tremendously gifted actor is actually trying. Is it just me, or is Bardem’s sloppily emotive performance commenting on the material? Is he perhaps wondering when exactly he was pegged as the new Antonio Banderas?
Roberts and her crazy brother Eric both have new movies out this weekend, one for women, the other, boys. Neither goes any distance toward renovating the careers of these talented siblings. Maybe they need to be in a movie together? My Best Friend's the Pope of Greenwich Village? Runaway Bride-Train? Help me out here.