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Film Review: Eat, Pray, Love

Thea Euryphaessa reviews a candidate for depression, the new Julia Roberts vehicle

Written by . Published on October 4th 2010.

Film Review: Eat, Pray, Love

Oh dear.

Even the ever luminous Julia Roberts who, as always, was aided and abetted by her pearly whites, couldn’t smile her way out of this one.

Everything just seems so convenient and well, staged. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so self-aware.

To be fair, it was always going to be a challenge dramatising what is, essentially, an interior journey. Add to that the legion of die-hard fans of the memoir on which this film is based and the heat was clearly on for whoever adapted it for the big screen.

Step forward the creator of hit TV show, Glee, Ryan Murphy; sprinkle a liberal dashing of good-looking blokes throughout; fold an assortment of lush, mouth-watering backdrops into the mix; set a Hollywood star on top; bake for an arse-numbing two hours and twenty minutes, et voilà! – you end up with this pile of tripe.

Roberts plays Liz Gilbert, a writer, who after several years of marriage and all the trappings of a successful career and lifestyle, decides this isn’t the life she envisioned for herself and wants out. After crying her eyes out to God on the bathroom floor one night, she decides to divorce her loving and seemingly innocuous husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup), and embark on a year-long quest of self-discovery. But not before she enjoys a rebound relationship with David (James Franco) – an actor Gilbert meets after watching him perform in a play she wrote.

After this relationship quickly deteriorates for reasons we’re never quite sure, she confides to her friend, Delia (Viola Davis), that she’s ‘lost her appetite for life’ and longs to ‘marvel at something.’

Soon after, she’s on her way. First of all, she spends several months in Rome, rediscovering the Art of Pleasure. For her, this entails learning the language and devouring all the gelato, pasta and wine she can. Cue countless close-ups of Roberts indulging in mouthful after mouthful of food. Oh, and young couples snogging at every turn. Because, of course, that’s all Italians ever do.

Next is India, where she practices the Art of Devotion studying and praying in an ashram. Here she meets a fellow worshipper called Richard, played by a scene-stealing Richard Jenkins, who nicknames her ‘Groceries’ (because she eats so much) and sets her straight with a few spiritual home-truths.

She rounds off her year seeking balance (between pleasure and devotion) beneath the balmy skies of Bali. Here she parties hard with another hot young guy, before finally falling in love with an older Brazilian man called Felipe (Javier Bardem). I’m familiar with the book, but to be honest, was confused by the disjointed direction this movie took.

When not smiling beatifically and bathed in an ethereal golden halo of backlight, Roberts spends the rest of her time wearing a glib, monotone expression. But no-one’s buying it. Gilbert’s character is just too superficial to really care about. Here’s a travel writer with a self-confessed, forty-nine stamps in her passport, who longs to ‘marvel at something.’ “Lady,” I thought, “if you haven’t marvelled at anything by now, you ain’t never gonna get it.”

Then there’s the small matter of her ‘risking everything’ – but risking what, exactly? What the film fails to mention is Ms. Gilbert received a $200,000 advance from her publisher to write the book documenting her year-long sojourn.

I have no issue with the advance – she was an established writer with several successful books behind her. What I take umbrage with is the studio’s false premise and advertising tagline about ‘risking everything.’ Risk doesn’t come lined with an advance and the remainder of your belongings stowed in a lock-up somewhere. Pressure to come up with the goods, yes. Risk – nope, not buying it.

Which leads me to another point: if I know I have to report back with a book documenting my shenanigans, what I’m not going to do is lie on a beach all day every day contemplating the meaning of life, while picking fluff out of my belly button: I’m going to be out there, looking for the story – meeting people, throwing myself into situations, creating moments. And it’s this air of contrivement that permeates every single scene of the movie.

Everything just seems so convenient and well, staged. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so self-aware. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that America’s Home Shopping Network partnered with the movie’s production company, Sony, to launch a three-day marketing campaign selling products themed around the movie.

Movies are larger-than-life and often exaggerated and fantastical. But Murphy and his co-writer Jennifer Salt have taken the essence of the original story, removed any trace of nuance, and blown it up into a saccharine, schmaltzy caricature of itself with our heroine sailing off into the sunset of newfound coupledom. After all, that’s What Women Want, right?


Thea Euryphaessa is author of Running into Myself (runningintomyself.com) – a book about her own quest for self-discovery. Hence she knows all about the ‘Eat Pray Love’ experience although she didn’t get a $200,000 advance.

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