Monday, 11 October 2010

Eat Pray Love (2010) – Cinema Review (4/10)

Eat (for distraction) Pray (for the end) Love (the final Credits)

Eat Pray Love is based on the novel of the same name, written by Elizabeth Gilbert. In this case it is the (semi?) autobiographical story of her journey to 'find herself'. Another of those many tales about someone going through a variety of experiences in order to discover their own inner peace/purpose/happiness/what-have-you. Having not read the book, I am judging the story solely on the merits of the film, though I have it on good authority that a great deal has been lost in the translation.

Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman, Mystic Pizza, Notting Hill) is in the lead, returning to movies after a gap of some time, while the film is directed by Ryan Murphy, who's previous credits include TV's Glee and Nip/Tuck.

'Liz' is a travel author, someone who goes from place to place, writing guides and reviews. She's unhappily married and, aided by some words of wisdom from a medicine man in Bali, soon realises that she needs to move on and try something new with her life. Next thing she knows, she's over-compensating and in a failing relationship with a younger man, before heading off to Rome, India, and back to Bali to experience all sorts of insights and life-lessons before finding love once again.

In literary form, an author can convey a lot through emotion and thought, which is not visual. Events that are otherwise relatively mundane can become interesting through the author's perspective (either personally or via the characters they write). A good film maker can convey these subtly through visuals, editing, script, or even musical accompaniment, but it's not an easy task. One need only look at the many failed book adaptations that are out there. I have no knowledge of the book, but I can only presume that its success was down to triggering some level of engagement and interest in its readers. Thus I can only surmise that the director, script writers and editors, have taken a too literal approach to the material in this case, and missed a lot of what makes the character's otherwise somewhat pedestrian experiences take on new meaning.

The film also lacks explanation in many factors. For example, when Liz cries whilst praying to God for help, her reaction seems totally melodramatic and over-the-top in comparison to her life shown on screen by that point. She is clearly in an unsatisfactory marriage, but she reacts in a way that wouldn't be out of place in a story about a woman who was beaten and abused by her husband. In this case, the husband appears merely to love her but have different goals in life that don't fit with hers. I have been informed that when reading the book, it is possible to see how her character comes to this point of desperate emotion, but the film lacks any emotional build up to it.

Likewise, we are told near the beginning of the film, in a way that is clearly meant to presage events, that she would become penniless, only not to worry as she would find wealth again. During her divorce, we are told she offers everything she has to her husband, in order to get him to sign the papers, but he refuses, as he is still in love with her. Later, he apparently agrees to the divorce, but it is unclear that she has lost her money, or that he has taken any, for that matter. Next, she is gallivanting around the globe with no apparent need for financial aid. So are we left to assume that perhaps the husband didn't take all of her money? In which case, are we still supposed to pity this 'penniless' woman who can afford not to work, and live in foreign countries at will? Apparently, in the book, the husband DID take all of her money, but she was then lucky enough to later get a sufficiently large book advance to go on her travels of 'self discovery'. Non of this is clear in the film.

Perhaps it is just the way the movie is pieced together, but it is difficult to empathise with many of the character's emotional responses to certain situations, because they are often presented in ways that seem to blow them out of proportion. If taken only on the basis of the film, the character seems to be a very self-absorbed individual with little in the way of either responsibility or personal coping skills to deal with life's trials. She appears to be someone who needs the most basic fundamentals hammering home through experience after experience before she can come to any life-affirming conclusions. I hasten to add, this is NOT what I think of Elizabeth Gilbert or her character in the book, but of how the character in the film is portrayed. Of Gilbert and the book, I have no opinion. The whole film feels unnecessarily drawn out, dwelling far too long on some sections, and in danger of feeling a little too narcissistic.

As for Julia Roberts, I'm unsure what to say. Part of me feels she carried what little there was, and without her the film would have been even worse. At the same time she often comes over somewhat un-varying in the role. All too often she resorts to that patented Julia Roberts 'quivering lip and tearful eyes' look, just on the verge of emotional breakdown. Perhaps she should not be blamed though. The part simply seemed to require far too many of those moments.

I could go through the rest of the cut-out characters in the film, but there doesn't seem much point. They're essentially devices with which she gains her 'insights'. If you would like a similarly themed movie that is superior in almost every way, I would suggest Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun (Click here to read my review), which while probably less realistic, is a far lighter, more cheerful, enjoyable and heart warming film, including its quirky secondary characters.

I'm tentatively giving Eat Pray Love four stars, because Julia Roberts seems to have put in the effort, and the director, while perhaps not able to do a great deal with the material, does include some beautiful scenery and surface atmosphere here and there, especially during the scenes in Rome. Other than that, I can't honestly say a lot to recommend Eat Pray Love, even to those who enjoyed the book.

4 / 10

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  1. I see why a mutual friend inadvertently referred to this as "Eat SLEEP Pray"!

  2. Thanks, Rogersreflections! ;-) That was definitely good way to describe it! :-)

    JD... well... There was some nice photography in it... and... well... actually, no, I can't think of much else! ;-)

    Thanks for the comments! :-D