Directed by: Ryan Murphy (Running With Scissors)
Starring: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, James Franco, Billy Crudup
Eat Pray Love (and in that order, I guess) is a movie I really wanted to like. I wanted to like it because of how much I like Ryan Murphy’s Running With Scissors (2006). And while there are moments of fleeting brilliance in the director’s new film (mostly concerning the way it’s shot), the absolute best I can say about this movie is that I didn’t hate it, I didn’t mind watching it and I see no reason to ever watch it again. (I’ll watch Running With Scissors a fifth time instead.)
I don’t dislike Julia Roberts and I have nothing against “women’s pictures”; in fact, I tend to prefer them to most movies where “things blow up real neat.” That said, this movie delivers nothing you don’t expect. It also suffers from privilege-itis. In other words, it wants the viewer to feel really sorry for a woman who can dump both Billy Crudup and James Franco, take a year off from her life and travel all over the place, eat tons of food and kvetch about getting fat (and yet never appear to have gained an ounce), find her spiritual center and end up with Javier Bardem. We should all have such misery.
I was being flippant above about the order of events in the title, but that pretty much is the whole story of Eat Pray Love—which makes it hard not to want to slap that trademark smile right off Julia Roberts’ face. So why am I not seething with indignation over this film? In part, I think, because I have the sense that no one involved has a clue just how obnoxious this movie is when it’s stripped to its essentials. No, everyone’s far too sincere about the whole thing for that. And let’s be fair: There’s more to this movie than just those essentials. Maybe not a whole lot more, mind you, but more nonetheless.
There’s no denying that Eat Pray Love is gorgeously produced and executed with skill and style. You’ll go a long way to find a better-looking movie, and you’ll have a hard time finding one with as many stylish directorial flourishes within the confines of a story that’s at least theoretically realistic. The problem is that all of this is only sometimes in the service of anything of much substance.
Far and away the most successful sections of Eat Pray Love are its scenes detailing the encounters between Liz (Roberts) and Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins, and that’s actually how his character is billed, honest) at an ashram in India. This stretch of the film actually seems to have a certain weightiness to it—even if that weightiness isn’t, on examination, much heavier than the bumper-stickerese that Liz accuses Richard from Texas of speaking in. I’ll even overlook the big Oscar-bid speech (done without a cutaway) that the film hands Jenkins, because there’s a ring of truth to it, and also because it skirts cheap tragedy at the last minute. The speech goes way beyond what actually passes between the two characters, so as to give Liz one of the movie’s few depictions of actually coming to terms with herself and her past. For a few minutes, the film seems to be going somewhere.
Unfortunately, Eat Pray Love then quickly retreats into a predictable, but not unenjoyable, final act that’s just too tidy for its own good. Look, let’s just put it this way: If you go see this—and you already know if you want to—you’re going to get exactly what you probably think you are. A little more maybe, but no less. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity.