Now available on DVD, “Eat, Pray, Love” stars Julia Roberts playing the role of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book upon which the movie is based. It has been categorized as a “chick flick,” given its nature and the probable makeup of the audience. Not having read the book—which may put me in a distinct minority of the reading public—I can’t comment on the movie’s faithfulness to the text, though it follows the general structure. As the title suggests, the movie is divided into three major segments, with a longish prologue that might be entitled “Weep.” At the outset, travel writer Gilbert is told by a Balinese wise man that she will experience a short and a long relationship and that she will return to Bali in a year. Sure enough, when she returns to New York she has to admit that her marriage is breaking up, that she feels trapped and bored, and that she needs out.
Her first hop is short. She meets David (the beautiful James Franco), an actor in a play that she wrote. One thing leads quickly to another, and she moves in with him—or, in her words, “dives into him.” Liz even starts following the same guru he does. But she decides that 1.) she can’t get the peace of mind she needs at remote remove from the guru, and 2.) David’s not going to help her get there either.
She tells her best friend/editor (played winningly by Viola Davis) that she has to take off for a year, starting with Italy (the “eat” part), thence to India (“pray”) and full circle to Bali—which turns into the “love” part, somewhat to Liz’s surprise and discomfort. The movie from this point on threatens to devolve into a travelogue, though it never quite tips over. In Rome she works on her Italian with a cute tutor, learns to order pasta, and gains a “muffin top” for her efforts. There’s some witty dialogue here, and cinematographer Robert Richardson films the food with what passes for ardent love. (Caution: eat something before viewing or watch with snacks handy.)
Her food lust stays with her when she heads off to an ashram in India, earning her the nickname “Groceries” from a fellow attendee, Richard. As played by Richard Jenkins (an Oscar nominee for a wonderful little film called “The Visitor”), Richard dispenses “bumper-sticker” wisdom to Liz. But he also finally tells her his own story, or confession, in one of the film’s few really compelling scenes.
The last part is OK, I guess, though the title telegraphs the ending, which smacks a bit too much of the standard romantic resolution for my taste but does fit it comfortably into the “chick flick” slot. Javier Bardem is the Brazilian divorcee whom she “meets cute” and (surprise!) falls in love with. Bardem (of “No Country for Old Men” fame) is a wonderful actor, and one would like to have seen more of the relationship before the two lovers ride off (literally) into the sunset.
“Eat, Pray, Love” won’t be winning any Oscars, but it’s a pleasant enough movie that has just enough substance for both sexes to enjoy. It toys with the theme of finding control and balance in our lives, though it never really digs into anything deeply. It’s rated “PG-13” for language and sexual suggestiveness, plus a brief bit of (male, rear) nudity.