Movie Review: Eat Pray Love
By Matthew Huntley
August 24, 2010
If you think Eat Pray Love is just another one of those movies where a self-indulgent American runs off to a foreign, exotic land to rediscover herself, you’re not far off. Indeed it does shares many qualities with “one of those movies.” But it is still a good example of its type, mostly because the screenplay is fair and doesn’t supply the heroine with easy or idealistic answers, at least not until the very end. For most of the movie, it stays its ground and maintains the notion that there are, in fact, no easy answers to the crises life sometimes gives us, no matter how many friends we have, how much food we eat, how much we pray or how much we give. Even though the ads make it seem like one, a fairy tale it is not, and it’s that quality that makes it credible.
Julia Roberts stars as Liz Gilbert, a travel writer facing a mid-life crisis: she no longer wants to be married to her husband (Billy Crudup). There’s no specific reason; she just doesn’t feel right about it any more (being unable to name the reason is usually worse). One night after a party, she gets up and prays to God for the first time, desperate, fearful and full of sadness and anxiety (credit to Roberts for conveying these feelings so genuinely). After filing for divorce, she stays with her best friend (Viola Davis) for support and begins dating a younger man, an actor named David (James Franco), but it’s clear their relationship is ill-fated.
Pretty soon, Liz starts to think her whole life is ill-fated. She doesn’t “feel” for it any more and lacks the passion and ambition she once had. Though the woman is hardly suffering, what with her comfortable finances, stable career, and cushy lifestyle, one of the movie’s points is that anyone can feel low and lifeless despite their superficial wealth. The bottom line is the world doesn’t make sense to Liz any more and she wants to re-attain her spirit. Without it, she might not care to survive any more, even though she’s perfectly capable. She wants the desire back.
Her plan: spend a year abroad in Italy, India and Bali. As viewers, we immediately think, if Liz can afford to take a year off and explore these countries, how dare the movie ask us to sympathize with her. But it achieves this because director Ryan Murphy is careful not to make the locations look too enticing. He doesn’t want viewers to get the impression the countries’ beauty is the quick answer to Liz’s suffering. Rather, he presents them raw and less romantic. We see the towns and cities functioning naturally and unaffected. They are picturesque, sure, but they’re also authentic. I admired the way the movie continually refrained from believing Liz’s problems were solvable over night. Given her situation, she will feel bad and guilty for a while. The movie knows restoring personal balance takes time.