Eat Pray Love Movie Review: Julia Roberts, Elizabeth Gilbert

The film adaptation of the wildly popular “Eat Pray Love” by author Elizabeth Gilbert opens with Liz’s first encounter with the medicine man Ketut in Bali. She laments that instead of asking Ketut a weighty question about God or the meaning of life, all she really wants to talk about is her relationships. This anecdote taken straight from the book sets the tone for the rest of the movie: instead of focusing on the protagonist’s spiritual soul searching, all the film really wants to do is talk about her man trouble.

In all fairness, “Eat Pray Love” the book contains a variety of subtle themes that don’t exactly lend themselves to big budget feel-good movie making: depression, deep introspection, and spiritual awakening. Reading the book was like following the diary of a very troubled woman stepping out of the darkness and into her own personal light. I read “Eat Pray Love” prior to seeing the film adaptation starring “Pretty Woman” actress Julia Roberts, and I wondered how the movie could begin to capture the fullness and essence of Gilbert’s memoir (which seems to have a devoted cult following).

Eat Pray Love Book Becomes a Movie

After I finished reading “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, I concluded that the theme of the book is: the search for authenticity and self actualization against a backdrop of novelty and change. The author’s deeper messages unfolded subtly as the book moved along, and her struggle and insights often seemed so internal. I wondered how Liz’s sensitive story would be brought to life on the big screen.

From the very first moments of “Eat Pray Love,” I felt a bit let down when I realized the film’s creators had taken certain liberties with this unusual tale. The first part of the film focuses on Liz’s stifling New York marriage and divorce; her unhappy affair with lover David; her siren call for major life change. Julia Roberts cries and whines a lot and the film tries to capture her despair and confusion, but these earlier scenes don’t evoke the essence of the book.

We get that Liz has man trouble and needs to get away for a while, but the movie glosses over her depression (and her anti depressant medication) as well as the earliest stirrings of her almost frantic need to find God, become whole and discover spiritual fulfillment.

After a chance visit with a Balinese medicine man, Liz resolves to travel for a year to find herself, visiting Italy to learn about pleasure, India to discover spirit, and Bali to balance the two.

“Eat Pray Love” the movie offers a lush travelogue of Rome, the first leg of Liz’s journey. Julia Roberts as Liz runs around Rome while the movie’s soundtrack, reminiscent of a fifties Technicolor romance, swells behind her. We see lots of conspicuous carbohydrate consumption as Liz Gilbert gorges herself on pasta and the film provides loving close-ups of plates bursting with butter and cheese!

I like how the movie captures Liz’s loneliness in Italy without a lover, her quiet sadness at the realization that wholeness and self actualization might be a solitary pursuit. But we don’t see Liz’s internal struggle to vanquish her depression that was part of the “Eat Pray Love” book, and something is lost in translation. I suppose the film’s creators didn’t want to spoil the glossy feel of this summer blockbuster by examining the gritty details of Gilbert’s emotional struggles and depression.

After Italy, the movie jumps to India. I really enjoyed how the dynamic, chaotic scenes of Liz’s arrival in India show her as a “fish out of water” leaving Rome for the ashram. Unfortunately, the scenes of meditation and contemplation in India are often filmed in a humorous way to highlight Liz’s frustration with “going within,” and the viewer never gets to fully experience the beauty and richness of Gilbert’s inner realizations.

I felt totally robbed when the climactic scene about Gilbert’s moment of transcendence at the ashram in India and her union with God was not portrayed in the film. In its place is a scene of Liz encountering an escaped carnival elephant (meant perhaps to evoke the remover of obstacles Ganesh?) This is yet another example of how the movie comes up short in portraying Liz’s spiritual journey, the central theme of Gilbert’s powerful memoir.

Off to Bali on the final part of her journey, Liz Gilbert encounters true love at last, when she meets her Brazilian lover Felipe (played by the charming Javier Bardem). Since the “Eat Pray Love” film seems to favor Liz’s romantic journey over her spiritual evolution, the movie devotes a lot of time to the Felipe-Liz romance. Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem have good chemistry and they’re fun to watch, but their story comes across as another Hollywood feel good romance.

We never get the pay off that Liz Gilbert builds to in her wonderful book: how does an individual balance the earthly realm with the spiritual realm? The issues of finding love and enlightenment without losing your self are addressed in a more superficial manner in the movie “Eat Pray Love” and something about this film feels incomplete and ultimately unsatisfying for the viewer.

Eat Pray Love Film and Book: Which is Better?

“Eat Pray Love” the film has a few good points in its favor, and this movie is graced with some knockout performances by a talented supporting cast. Viola Davis makes a deep impression as Liz’s sympathetic best friend in New York and James Franco really fleshes out the complex character of her lover David. As Sofi, Liz’s Swedish friend in Rome, Tuva Novotny’s subtle acting skills display a lot of emotional colors. Richard Jenkins steals the show in what should have been an Oscar nominated performance as “Richard from Texas.”

The amazing cinematography is almost like another character in the movie. Drinking in the amazing, sweeping scenes of Indonesia, Italy and India is one of the highlights of watching this film. If you read the book and wondered what it might look like brought to life, the film gives the viewer the chance to step into the picture (treat yourself to watching this movie on a big screen television if you can). When filming “Eat Pray Love,” a lot of care was taken with locations, the sets and wardrobe, and all that attention to detail definitely enhances the movie.

I’m divided on Julia Roberts’s performance: sometimes I feel she really captured the essence of Liz, and at other times, I felt like I was watching the “Pretty Woman” movie star. She definitely has a few standout moments of transcendence playing Liz Gilbert. If Roberts had been given a grittier script, I feel she might have risen to the occasion with a more full bodied performance. In my opinion, Gilbert’s story could have been better served as a low budget indie film that didn’t shy away from the book’s more difficult, darker subject matter.

“Eat Pray Love” the movie was not satisfying for me, and as the film’s final credits rolled, I didn’t get a sense of the fullness of one woman’s journey that I had when savoring the book. After finishing Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, many readers carried a dog eared copy of the book as they set out to make life altering discoveries of their own. I can’t imagine that the film will ignite much excitement, or light a fire within the viewer to alter his or her life.

This movie is definitely worth your time for some excellent performances and it’s a lovely travelogue, but the “Eat Pray Love” book reminds us that no matter how much you travel the world to seek your true self, the real journey is within. In my opinion, if you really want to plumb the depths of “Eat Pray Love,” mind, body and soul, read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir.


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