"With scenery as fine as Hollywood money can buy, how can anything go wrong?"
"Eat Pray Love" is a sumptuous sight. After introducing us to heroine Liz
Gilbert (Julia Roberts), the movie takes us on a travel tour of Italy, India,
and Indonesia - the three countries Liz chooses to visit on her journey of
post-divorce self-discovery. With Julia Roberts as tour guide through scenery as
fine as Hollywood money can buy, how can anything go wrong? It does, though only
mildly. With Roberts on board, we expect the movie to be really good; instead
it's just slightly on the upside of mediocre - a sort of glitzy fizzle.
As Liz leaves her feckless young husband (Billy Crudup) and then dabbles with a younger man (James Franco) at the start of her journey, we wonder why she seems so beyond the reach of these callow youths. It's not that Julia Roberts' Liz looks older; it's that she seems deeper, and we are relieved when she moves on to the emotional weight of a troubled Texan in India (Richard Jenkins), and finally to the devilishly charming Brazilian (Javier Bardem) in Indonesia.
It doesn't take long to realize that though Liz may be searching for her new self, she's not going to do it alone. Sociable to her bones, she falls in - on arrival at wherever - with magical groups of people who love her on sight. Italians over spaghetti, chanting Indians, the shaman and the healer in Bali - all take her in as if her arrival is their cue to share their emotional well-being. This movie and its heroine travel along about two feet off the ground leaving us to navigate the nuggets of reality it has strewn below.
Our traveler appears vulnerable in the limbo between independence and the loneliness it so often brings. Does partnership always mean compromise or surrender? While Liz is struggling through this maze, one thing becomes clear: this warm extrovert isn't suited to a solitary life.
Good casting keeps things rolling. Friend Viola Davis as Liz's pal in New York, Tuva Novotny as her new pal in Italy, Giuseppe Gandini's ebullient Italian, Hadi Subiyanto's shaman. All of them propel the movie toward a solution to Liz's identity problem. Can independence for a pretty gal from New York survive partnership with a handsome man of the right emotional weight from Brazil? Reservations aside, Roberts and Bardem are an irresistible pair. We root for them.
By sheer force of her own authenticity, Julia Roberts manages to make up for some of the pop psychology that comes our way. It is my humble opinion that for those of us who have not experienced the ashram, the shaman or the healer, these things, when painted vividly on the big screen, seem awash in pop therapy. The audience can be forgiven for moments of eye-rolling. As a trusted friend once said, "In the movies, a toothless old man in a drooping loincloth can be counted on to dispense wisdom." Just so.
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