Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal transformation from depressed divorcee to healthy, balanced woman in love were recorded in her bestselling memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love.” The book resonated with so many people that a movie adaptation was made, with Julia Roberts playing the lead.
Filming highlighted the beauty of the locations, especially Italy and Bali. A soft focus gave a dreamlike quality, with Roberts’ golden hair glowing like a halo. India didn’t get as much glamor, though the chaos of the country, especially to a new arrival, was portrayed fairly accurately.
Though the movie definitely employed “pretty power,” it wasn’t able to really tell a story. Lost is the complexity of Gilbert’s situation and relationships. We see her in New York, telling her husband she doesn’t want to be married, but there’s no background. The pivotal moment in her story, when she first talks to God, seems out-of-place and as if it came out of nowhere.
The rest of the movie is similar. Gilbert goes searching for herself, but as viewers we’re not really sure what she’s in search of — or if she really ever finds it. Relationships don’t have the weight they should, and thus Gilbert’s journey is lost. Gone is the story of her building herself back up, learning to be alone, and eschewing romance in favor of nurturing her soul. People pop up, friendships are made, but none of it seems to make much sense. And while Roberts does a fantastic job of conveying pain, she doesn’t have the perk that led to Gilbert’s being assigned to the job of Key Hostess in her ashram in India. Thus, Gilbert’s charisma is also gone, and with it any sympathy the viewer might have had for her. When there is an emotional scene, it just tries too hard — like the awkward, pointless confession from Richard from Texas (played by Richard Jenkins).
At least it’s beautiful. And not just the scenery or the Italian food porn: Roberts is surround by a cast of sexy eye candy, including Billy Crudup, James Franco, and Javier Bardem. Unfortunately the beauty of these men in contrast with the lack of character development will only serve to amplify the dreamlike, fantastical quality of the movie; rather than focus on the work that Gilbert did on herself in order to become a more aware human being (what makes the story appealing and relatable), female fans are likely to get lost in the dream of travel and sexy men. I don’t suppose that’s the end of the world, and it is definitely what Hollywood is for, but again, the bigger message of Gilbert’s story is pretty much only conveyed in a final voice-over at the very end.
[Photo credit: Flickr user mzarzar]