Julia Roberts has a Bali High
Like with many movies which have been adapted from popular novels I am sure a lot of what is important, what provides meaning and explains things has had to be cut out. I can't be certain as I have not read Elizabeth Gilbert's popular novel which this movie is adapted from but I just get that feeling that is what has happened because there are times when "Eat Pray Love" is clunky and asks you to take things for granted which logically don't feel right. But despite this for me "Eat Pray Love" is a surprisingly clever and also touching movie which takes us on a journey, not just the journey of discovery which Liz encounters as she spends a year of soul searching in Italy, India and Bali but also a journey of emotion and connection as the story and styles evolve. It is on one hand a movie which seems to fit into the fantasy world of wish fulfilment, that magical journey of finding one self and romance but it has a subtle depth a charm which wins out over the various flaws.
In many ways Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts - Duplicity) had it all, a successful career, a husband and also a home but she finds herself feeling lost, no longer knowing who she is or what she wants. It's this realisation that life is not going as she wished that she divorces her husband and her safe life in New York to spend a year abroad. Starting in Italy where she falls in love with food before heading to India where she discovers the benefits of meditation before finally heading to Bali where the true meaning of life and love is waiting for her to discover it.
Now to be honest "Eat Pray Love" initially feels like a poorly made wish fulfilment cliche and I found myself wondering why this wasn't more like "Under the Tuscan Sun". It has a similar set up as Liz ends up divorced and finding herself for want of a better phrase in the midst of a mid life crisis, unsure who she is anymore and not feeling like she has a purpose. And with Liz's first stop being Italy I was fully expecting plenty of Italian romance, beautiful vistas and quirky characters, but you don't really get that or not in the traditional fantasy like state. Instead it feels very clunky even artsy as we have Liz indulging in Italian food, learning the language and making friends, with not a single romance to be seen. But this is in fact surprisingly clever because this is Liz's first step on the road to finding herself, who she is after years of marriage and so it does feel unnatural even a little uneasy as she tentatively takes those first steps.
And this cleverness carries on because having started to find herself her travels take her to India and onto Bali where as she grows as person so does the movie. It begins to shed that clunkiness and flows in tune with the harmony which Liz discovers from her time meditating in India and what she learns from the Bali medicine man. That clunkiness is still there but it is there representing that last issue she has to overcome to fully find herself and in doing so finding love and purpose. But the sad thing is that this harmony between style and emotion is so easy to miss because the clunkiness of her time in Italy feels wrong, it feels disjointed and in some ways poorly made. But when you tune in on this harmony and embrace that change in emotion and rhythm the story actually opens itself up to you.
All of which is wonderful and being what is in many ways a wish fulfilment movie it is in some ways very false or at least appears that way. You can't but help notice that all the people Liz meets on her travels are either handsome men or good guys; there are no nasty people who are unfriendly. And everything seems so easy, no worries about money despite losing it all in her divorce, it has that faux air of effortlessness about it. But here is the thing "Eat Pray Love" is 133 minutes long and I am sure to get it to that length a lot has had to be left out, much of which I am sure explains things so it is not only less effortless but also the ugly elements which wouldn't fit in to what wants to be a beautiful movie. It does mean that solid reasoning for why Liz chose to divorce her husband or dump the young lover she finds is lacking and in a way makes her character initially feel shallow, not someone you immediately warm to.
Because of this in many ways the casting of Julia Roberts as Liz is a master stroke as it is nigh on impossible not to warm to her. But Roberts's performance is more than this because she creates this character this woman who no longer knows who she is or feels like herself and gives her a mix of being emotionally damaged and vulnerable. It allows us to warm to her as we watch her grow and find herself and by the end of the movie Roberts has taken us on such a journey that Liz is no longer shallow but someone we can connect with.
Now it may seem very fantasy like that all the men Liz's life are good looking be it Billy Crudup as her husband Stephen or James Franco as her young lover David Piccolo but it is good casting especially when it comes to Javier Bardem as Felipe. It's hard to think of Bardem as playing a sensitive soul when you've seen him in "No Country for Old Men" but here he is must brilliant, charming, sensitive, and emotional but also vulnerable creating the perfect romantic partner for Liz.
All of which makes "Eat Pray Love" a surprisingly enjoyable if flawed movie but for me there is one thing, one problem which just ended up annoying me. And that thing is the dialogue as far too often it felt simply wrong, too flowery for the real world. Yes I know that the character of Liz is a writer and as such you expect her grip of language and vocabulary to be more than what could be seen as normal but the descriptiveness of the dialogue is simply not real, it's the sort of thing written in books but never spoken. And sadly it is this over descriptive and flowery dialogue which ended being a bug bear.
What this all boils down to is that "Eat Pray Love" is a very enjoyable movie but only when you tune in to the link between the style, emotion and journey. It is though flawed and sadly resides in the world of fantasy as everything seems so easy, a flaw I am sure which comes from having to leave huge chunks of explanation out in its adaptation from book to screen. But if you like Julia Roberts it won't matter one iota because she radiates so much warmth whilst creating a vulnerable character that it is impossible not to warm to her.