I can hear the dolphins clapping
Eat Pray Love
A best-selling memoir about an [actually pretty awesome-sounding] midlife crisis, it was inevitable this book would be snapped up and turned into a star-powered movie for the post-Bridget Jones era. Julia Roberts, who I would watch opening mail I think she’s so intoxicatingly watchable, plays an everywoman New Yorker who decides after eight years of marriage to leave her husband (played against stereotype by Billy Crudup), and, following a doomed rebound relationship with a younger man (a charismatic James Franco), takes off for a year to find herself. Well, actually – to feel something, to marvel and to experience life. As Liz plans her gap year – 4 months eating in Rome, 4 months praying in an ashram in India, and 4 months living (and loving) in Bali – it’s hard not to start conjuring up your own fantasies about an alternate reality.
I haven’t read the book, eschewing it just as I did the Bridget Jones saga (though I enjoyed the first of those films, again largely due to the luminous central performance by Renee Zellweger). So I can’t compare the book with this movie, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Eat Pray Love was clearly going to be a film for like-minded women of a certain age, and to that end I have to admit I enjoyed it, and was happy to go along for the ride. Who hasn’t ended a relationship and dreamed of chucking in one’s dreary life and moving to somewhere exotic? Fortunately for Liz, she has the means to follow her whim.
It goes without saying the scenes in Italy make one want to move there immediately – provided, of course, one has a seemingly bottomless purse, and can make new friends who are local enough to show you the inside story, but international enough to enjoy your foreign (ie. American) ways to want to hang out with you (this is where Liz fails as our everywoman and comes off more as our film-star Roberts). Liz certainly falls on her feet, renting a suitably dilapidated apartment for her time in the Eternal City, and spending her days eating, drinking and learning the language sufficiently to give her own back when dissed by an Italian matriarch for being a divorcee travelling alone.
And then we’re off to India, where Liz meets others on a Life Journey, imparts and receives wisdom, and leaves with a greater appreciation for her marriage and the ability to forgive herself for ending it. There she meets kooky characters worthy of any road-trip movie, notably Richard Jenkins (understated and excellent in fare such as The Visitor) who gives her a nickname and unsolicited advice before sharing his own piece of personal tragedy on a rooftop. Without coming across as creepy. A great actor indeed.
By which time Liz is due in Bali, and we understand she’s travelled quite long enough on her path to emotional recovery to now warrant a bit of loving. I’m not sure whether the meet-cute of being run off the road by Javier Bardem’s Felipe is true to the book, or indeed the author’s real story, but it’s certainly convenient. The couple spend a long time enjoying one another’s company and (actually refreshingly) don’t fall into one another’s arms straight away. And then all that remains is for Liz to battle the “love again” phase of her adventure and sail off into the sunset, and we can all go home.
The film is far too long (as now is this review), as presumably the director strove to include as much as possible from the book. Because of this it does lose energy halfway through India (no doubt because we know we still have 4 months in Indonesia to get through), but to her credit, Julia Roberts manages to keep us engaged nonetheless. Eat Pray Love will affect those who feel its unsubtle message deep in their soul, and that was undoubtedly the strength of the book – not its artistic merit or original and profound sentiments. Everyone else can just enjoy the scenery.