Throughout the entire (I repeat: ENTIRE) 133 minutes of the screening of Eat Pray Love, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young woman who said, “That’s cute” every 15 minutes. Occasionally, she would repeat the dialogue said by the characters and then giggle to her friend. Other than that, she quietly vomited the words, “That’s cute” incessantly. Just when I was about to lean over and give her a hug and a slap, I realized that she may be on to something.
Eat Pray Love is, indeed, the powerhouse chick flick of the summer (supposedly). With Glee creator Ryan Murphy conducting this cinematic orchestra that utilizes Elizabeth Gilbert’s book as the score, it does pack a decent, yet tiresome punch when it comes to “you’re never too old to find yourself” movies – and a lot of that has to do with Julia Roberts, who steps into the bucket cap of the movie’s heroine.
Fresh off a divorce from her hollow ambition-ed husband Stephen (Billy Crudup), writer Elizabeth (Roberts) starts her journey by shacking up with a young New Age-y actor/yogi David (James Franco) and then realizes, “Why do I always have to be with someone to make myself happy?” Or in her case, unhappy.
After this moment of self-enlightenment, she does what any normal person would do: plan a yearlong odyssey around the world to “find herself.” (On a writer’s salary? Are we sure this is non-fiction?) She plans to go to Rome, India and then finish the year off in Bali – all of which respectively coincide with the title of the movie/book: Eat. Pray. Love. Her wise and say-it-as-it-is girlfriend, Delia (played by the super-talented Viola Davis) asks, “What if it doesn’t work?” Elizabeth just shakes the question off and hopes for the best.
Funny – I asked the same question when sitting down for the screening.
The large appeal of this movie is not that it’s geared toward women but because of the A-list roster of thespian wattage. Roberts can be in any movie and her American sweetheart stigma would draw herds of people both young and old (I loved her and her Irish accent in Mary Reilly). As an added bonus, eye candy comes in the form of Franco, Crudup and Elizabeth’s unexpected Bali love interest, Felipe (hunky Hollywood Spaniard Javier Bardem). You can even throw in Elizabeth’s Balinese adorable and toothless fortuneteller, Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) into the mix if that’s your cup of tea. But all of this beefcake-ness is just the packaging. The content inside is what really matters.
The best-selling book that everyone claims to have read before it “got big,” is a firm foundation for a great hero’s journey, but the emotional connection I drew from the movie wasn’t necessarily Elizabeth-centric. I wasn’t engaged with her emotions. I clung on to the things that she was observing – not through her eyes, but through my own. I thoroughly enjoyed the food porn in Rome and loved the odd couple relationship she shared with “Richard from Texas” (played by the brilliant Richard Jenkins) during her ashram stop in India (which surprisingly didn’t make South Asian spirituality trendy.) Most of all, I nearly shed a tear when Felipe said a heart wrenching goodbye to his son as he left after a brief visit from college.
Ryan Murphy tends to have that effect on you. He sucks the emotion out of you like a dust buster (please reference any episode of Glee). Although it showcases the poignant sensitivity of the scene, you are kind of blinded by your emotions. You forget why you are watching the movie. It’s like eating chocolate-covered broccoli: the chocolate negates the whole point of eating broccoli. Not to say that everyone involved with this movie was great, but there’s only so much of Julia’s crying-induced veiny forehead I can take before I am transported to Truvy’s salon in northwest Louisiana and Shelby is shaking, trying to drink her juice while sputtering the words, “DON’T…TALK…ABOUT…ME…LIKE I’M NOT HERE!”
The point I am trying to make is that I wasn’t fully engrossed in each and every scene because Murphy tricks us into telling us how to feel first and then relate it to what’s going on with the characters. I like it the other way around. At times, this is acceptable, but it just becomes too demanding and exhausting – much like Elizabeth’s romp around the world. A quarter of the way through her stay in India, I heard myself sighing, “Oh shit – we still have to go with her to Bali.” It was almost like watching a slide show of someone’s vacation.
The cast is strong and the director did a good job of making us feel what he wanted, but in the end, the girl sitting next to me during the screening hit the nail on the head: It’s a cute movie. But she also forgot to mention that it’s a really, really, really “dramedic” advertisement for the International Travel and Tourism Industry — with an emphasis on India and Indonesia.