Not that this hair begs splitting, but, coming up, I was always taught that you “pray” before you “eat.”
Based on the biggest international publishing sensation/popular avalanche since the last book Oprah Winfrey suggested everybody pick up and read, Eat Pray Love: The Movie follows the globetrotting vision quest of freshly-divorced-and-hurting memoirist Elizabeth “Liz” Gilbert (surprisingly enough, author of the first-person, embedded-journalism GQ article that became 2000’s aggressive-and-leggy-bartendresses-atop-furniture paean Coyote Ugly — interesting lady, this Ms. Gilbert), who determines to rediscover herself via a transcontinental triptych of soul-searching (Eat = Italy, Pray = India, Love = Bali).
Even discounting its mammoth name recognition and built-in audience, the celluloid treatment of Eat Pray Love has considerable elements in its corner. Julia Roberts as Gilbert, first of all, may be the most terminally endearing actress of all time. Period. You may disagree, and I get it. And surely, this will not be remembered as Ms. Roberts’s best or most indelible performance. But just watch her eat a piece of pizza, or listen to her laugh (that laugh! you know the one) and try not to come away eternally charmed. She’s a movie star, folks. That’s what one looks like, if you’re curious. And she wears it well.
Pray is further abetted by an immensely talented supporting cast, including Oscar-winner Bardem, Oscar-nominee Davis, Crudup, Franco, O’Malley (late of Glee), and the wonderful Jenkins (also an Oscar nominee), whose touching turn as a troubled ex-pat Texan and spiritual mentor to Gilbert helps render the middle “Pray” section the most compelling of the film. Crudup, as Gilbert’s doting ex-husband, is compulsively likable — so much so, in fact, that, by the end (and due as well, perhaps, to some spotty storytelling), I still wasn’t completely sure why she’d left him.
Indeed, throughout the picture — which feels, in places, like a surprisingly conventional romantic comedy — Gilbert’s actions and words are confusing. When she leaves her husband — who clearly loves her — the catalysts appear to be (1) his desire to go back to school, and (2) his reluctance to go to Aruba, with little surrounding context. When she “dives,” as she terms it, into a rebound relationship with a young, flirty actor (Franco), then says she “loved” him, my brain went, “What?! Seriously?!” When, during the latter goings, she takes another chance on a relationship, it felt off. My wife, who is reading the book and saw the movie with me, assures me that, on the page, things make more sense. I don’t doubt it. (Apparently, there are a number of differences between the two incarnations.)
Pray, if rushed-feeling, isn’t bad, per se. It’s enjoyable, and it’ll draw tears. It just happens that, though the film appears, at the last minute, to kind-of want to fashion itself as a romantic comedy, the romances, as presented, are the least satisfying and interesting part of the tale. •