Put all the leading women’s magazines in the categories of fashion, celebrity, travel, food and self-improvement into an animated collage, covert the columns into dialogue and voice-over narration, add-in a sound track of sentimental favorites and soaring strings, and you’ve got "Eat, Pray, Love," the new film based upon the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s beach-reading for the silver screen: glamorous people in beautiful places on a New Age pursuit of happiness, that begins and ends with the quest to find that special someone who’s right for you.
Written by: Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt. Based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert
Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis, James Fanco, Javier Bardem
After a brief excursion to Bali for some exposition, our story kicks off in decadent New York City, where Liz (Julia Roberts), a successful magazine writer, is yearning for a shake-up. She is dissatisfied with her husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup), mostly, it seems, because he is all grown up and still does not know what he wants to do for a living. This is particularly problematic since they are trying to have a baby, another arrangement with which Liz is dissatisfied. She sues for divorce.
Saddened and off her mooring, Liz finds herself wishing she had a relationship with God, whom, she feels, could tell her what do next. She settles for David (James Franco), a lousy stage actor with a winning smile, a penchant for yoga, and a shrine to an Indian guru in his apartment. For reasons largely unexplained, this relationship doesn’t do it for her either.
Feeling restless and empty inside, she hatches a plan to fill herself with all of the sustenance and spiritual guidance money can buy. She purchases airplane tickets to Rome, where she will live in rustic squalor and eat in sumptuous luxury; India, where she will look up David’s guru for a formal meet-and-greet with the Divine; and Bali, where she can barter English lessons for wisdom with a medicine man she met on a magazine assignment at the beginning of the movie, while lounging in tropical splendor.
The rest is tourism. The Rome section offers breathtaking classical architecture, close-ups of tricked-out linguine that will have you ravishing your popcorn in agony, and some lively locals. Liz gains a Swedish gal pal, (Tuva Novotny) whom she liberates by convincing her that she can stand to gain a few pounds, and some Italians who teach her what’s wrong with Americans: we work to hard and have trouble enjoying our leisure time.
In India, she speeds past scenes of staggering poverty in a bus bound for the ashram, where she mostly seems to learn that meditating is harder than it looks. Additional eastern-style lessons about acceptance are beat into her brain by talkative Texan (Richard Jenkins) who’s been there longer, struggling to overcome the problems that fill the standard country-western song. In Bali, Liz learns to save the world (by, it turns out, exhorting her New York friends to make a charitable donation to a local). She also meets: Felipe (Javier Bardem).
If you’re in it for the pictures, you might well enjoy "Eat, Pray, Love." They are consistently beautiful and director, Ryan Murphy, keeps the camera in constant motion, such that sitting at a meal or even meditating never feel tedious or static. If you’re seeking wisdom however, in "Eat, Pray, Love," what you should expect to find is essentially a handful of chocolate fortune cookies.