Sunday, August 15, 2010

REVIEW: Eat Pray Love

Never have I identified so strongly with a movie I disliked as much as Eat Pray Love.

Now I know some female readers might be thinking, "That's because you're a guy."

Not so. I had been looking forward to this film all summer. I like Julia Roberts and I have a newfound appreciation for its director, Ryan Murphy, the creative force behind my new favorite TV show, Glee. Furthermore, I like movies of all types, including chick flicks, so long as they have a brain in their head and/or are enjoyably silly.

Alas, Eat Pray Love has a brain in its head, but there's a cold fish where its heart ought to be.

As a former colleague of mine (a female) so colorfully put it, "The premise, as I understand it (is) -- young, successful and wealthy woman has it all but decides she's not happy (boohoo) so she takes a year to travel around the world to find herself. Oh, PUH-LEEZE. And BARF!"

Part of me says, "Wait a second. I get it." I do understand the loneliness and isolation Gilbert feels, and I don't begrudge her playing Magellan. Granted, my circumstances are a little different. I'm an eternally single man who has lived completely by himself for more than seven years, without so much as a pet for a companion. I would love to find myself. I've been seriously questioning my habits and my personality, especially over the past year, considering I turn 40 in less than two months.  I would probably do the same thing Gilbert did if I had the money. I don't have the money, but I'm not going to play the envy card.  Gilbert can do what she wants with her wealth and write about it.

Unfortunately, Roberts and Murphy fail to make the journey compelling.  Gilbert, as played by Roberts, comes off as irritatingly self-possessed at first.  It's clear her husband (Billy Crudup) loves her and has done nothing "wrong" except to get caught in the cross-hairs of his wife's mid-life crisis. Later on in the film, Gilbert voices some fairly understandable reasons as to why she left, but the explanation comes too late. By that time, my attitude toward her character - and the movie - had already hardened. Not a good place to be when your story is less than halfway over.

It doesn't help that the text frequently sounds rehearsed and unnatural. When Roberts takes up with a hunky young actor (James Franco),  she says something like, "I felt like a character in a cartoon who dives into a glass of water and disappears completely." What in the name of Chuck Jones is THAT supposed to mean? That sounds Woody Allen on a bad day if he were to have a hot flash.

Every once in awhile, a glimmer of wisdom or poignancy cuts through all the emotional muck, particularly when Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) is on screen, portraying a man with a haunted past. He plays one heart-rending scene that made me realize there really was a story here, and made me wish the whole movie could have been that affecting.

But Murphy keeps shooting his own film in the foot. His pacing goes slack far too often, and he tends to resort to show-offy filmmaking (swirling cameras, Dutch tilts, fast cutting) that calls attention to itself. For a man who has had such great success with a show about singers, Murphy keeps failing to hit the right notes.

Roberts tries hard to give the material some emotional weight, but she struggles against two things: an unsympathetic character, and her own vivacious persona. There are too many Julia-isms, such as that horsey laugh, which gets overused and clashes with the character.

Some may claim that you have to read the book to appreciate the movie. I counter that if a viewer has to read a book to understand a movie, then the movie has failed. Eat Pray Love is a noble effort, but in the end, it succeeds at little more than being a very attractive advertisement that would be more at home on the Travel Channel or the Food Network.


1 comment:

Allison M. Dickson said...

I agree completely with this review. I came away feeling like I had to read the book to really appreciate the movie, and that does make the movie a failure.

Granted, I'm not a wealthy and successful writer (yet) and I wasn't when I split from my husband for the very same reason four years ago. I took two years "finding myself" and eventually went back to him. I had my own very personal journey, even though I never really went anywhere. I feel like the film's gorgeous set pieces were a distraction from the heart of the film. I didn't actually feel its warmth until that scene you mentioned and when Javier Bardem came onto the screen.

The passion that was apparently in her relationship with the actor was not at all touched upon in the film, and it just was not believable at all. Julia is lovely, but she looked almost matronly with Franco. The pairing went together about as well as Sarah Palin and the English language.