During a summer season that has given us a duplicitous warrior woman (Salt), a normal teen girl torn between two mon-strous lovers (Twilight: Eclipse) and the rise of The Girl (Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and the serialized adaptations), the end arrives and it’s time for us to settle down for a more relaxed, meditative film heroine. Enter Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts), travel writer and recently divorced woman in search of the real Liz Gilbert.
Liz has traveled the globe (49 stamps in her passport, thank you very much), but always explored the same terrain – the undiscovered lands of the female heart. She constantly wonders if she (and by extension, her female readers) will ever be happy with themselves, their spiritual natures, and their mates. Her unpleasant breakup with her husband (a dreamily vacant albeit less blue Billy Crudup) and her quick (and unfulfilling) shacking up with a young actor (a spiritually intense James Franco who seems to be everywhere and doing everything at once), leads Liz to embark on a journey of self-discovery that sounds positively lovely in theory and likely on paper, but ultimately creates a sense of entitlement that cultural thievery that sinks the soul.
For one year, Liz devotes herself to eating (in Italy) with abandon, praying (in India) with a seeker’s fervor for enlightenment and forgiveness, and loving (in Bali) in such a way that she might find true balance. The adventure kicks off gamely as Liz meets a cute collection of types and eats with no sense of fear or loathing when it comes to body image. This is certainly a refreshing approach and one that, in combination with the food presented, will inspire the same hunger in audiences. The problem is that this portion of the film is what works best, but it fails to leave the kind of lasting impression viewers will savor days or weeks later. Films like Big Night and Like Water For Chocolate, which prominently showcased food, continue to leave taste buds alert and tingling, but the dishes here aren’t rendered in a truly memorable and mouthwatering fashion.
By the time Roberts ambles and drags us along with Liz as she treks on for prayer and love, and meets up with the likes of Richard Jenkins (who steals the show with his performance as a soul searcher in India) and Javier Bardem (the gentle lover in Bali), we begin to see the film as a series of missed opportunities: a great cast that is largely wasted, exotic locales that never achieve travelogue status, and a journey that ends with no progressive sense of enlightenment. Eat Pray Love, the title, promises a ladder-like movement towards a goal, but the film reminded me of an epic car trip through the States that stalled because the keys were lost at the first rest stop. (tt stern-enzi)