Sunday, August 15, 2010
Movie Review.... Eat Pray Love.... Don't Go Hungry
Unlike most of my friends, I was not a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-hit novel about self-discovery, “Eat Pray Love”. I found Gilbert’s writing to be self-indulgent and sort of doubted the authenticity of her tale.
Needing a little self-indulgence myself on Friday, I set out to see the film on its first day in wide release. I’ll admit to seeing a half dozen or so romantic comedies a year, but it is definitely not a favorite genre. I’ve liked a lot of Julia Roberts’ work, and I wasn’t sure if she would be able to sell a movie as a lead again, after her long absence from the screen.
What did I think? Well, “Eat Pray Love” is way too long. At two hours and 20 minutes, a film has to be more than the sum of its parts to be memorable. “Eat Pray Love” is not. We’re never really convinced why Roberts as Gilbert needs to indulge in a year off to travel the globe, and to go to the three specific places she visits. We know she wants to go back to Bali to meet again with an elderly spiritual adviser she meets there at the start of the film. We know she decides to go to an ashram in India to follow the teachings of a spiritual leader her vacuous post-divorce lover (James Franco; wasting his considerable skills)followed. Unfortunately, Franco was totaling uninteresting and not believeable as a man that Roberts as Gilbert could really care for. Her character doesn't even seem to be particularly taken with the vocation of his particular ashram. We know she decides to go to Italy because, well, if given the chance, wouldn’t we all go?
Along the way, the solo Roberts as Gilbert (from now on, I’ll just say “Liz”)meets many and makes friends in every venue. During the journey, the crystallized reason for my enjoyment makes itself known at several turns…all involve touching small moments of friendship shared between Liz and someone who has come to mean a lot to her. It goes without saying that I go to see tear-jerker movies (my latest was the schmaltzy and wonderful “Letters to Juliet”), but they play and prey on their audience. Far more enjoyable are the movies which are subtle enough to create a lump in your throat, have your eyes well up, but allow you to flow through the moment on to the next scene. There are several times in the film that this happened to me, and those moments (and the cinematography and the incredible soundtrack) make me happy that I plunked down my $9.50.
Liz celebrates Thanksgiving with her adopted friends in Italy. As the dinner nears, it is discovered that the friend in charge of the turkey had not even defrosted it. The group enjoys the rest of the dinner, enjoys immensely the time they spend together, and then all nap through the night while the turkey cooks… waking in time to have it for breakfast. The scene where the camera pans across all the guests in “group nap” are charming, the reveal of the reason they stayed, the turkey, is one of those small chuckles and moments where you really feel the characters, because you have known people in your life who would have done exactly that with you.
In India, Liz participates as a spectator at an arranged marriage between a young girl and her groom. During the ceremony, she pans back to her own wedding day, a wedding to Stephen (Billy Crudup) that ended in disaster when she abruptly determined that she could no longer pretend that she was happy with him, while pretending that their life together was enough for her. It wasn’t. The poignancy of Liz’ memories is when she imagines that they dance to the song that SHOULD have played at their wedding reception (the song that did play gives us another totally charming flashback, perhaps Crudup’s only likeable moment in the movie). Into the mix comes the first 8 bars of “Harvest Moon”, the ethereal love song that instantly makes you realize that Neil Young is a genius. I’m instantly transported by Young’s imagery, and the lump comes back into my throat. I try hard to match my own memories of Harvest Moon with the dancing scene between Crudup and Roberts, but my own memories are more tangible and more connected to the song than the scene on film. However, the moment stands out as a reason for me to watch the film on DVD, and also wakes me up to how extraordinary the soundtrack is; with two songs by Young, two by Eddie Vedder and some delicious Brazilian jazz, it is unforgettable.
Also in India, the movie’s best character, Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) makes an appearance, and from the casual nickname he gives Liz (based on her habit of eating everything in sight), “Groceries” , to the poignant scene in which he discloses the family tragedy that brought him on his own quest to India, Jenkins adds a friendship for Liz that feels more real than any that come first or follow later. Every scene that Jenkins is in is absorbing; you are left somewhat flat when he leaves and Liz is still in India, and you find yourself asking…why? Jenkins, a revelation in his role in the popular cable series, Six Feet Under, and a revelation as Theron’s father in the bleak “North Country”, has been wasting away, waiting for Hollywood to rediscover him. Looks like that wait is over.
On to Bali, where the movie gets its biggest appeal; Javier Bardem as Felipe joins the film and finally Liz’s quest doesn’t seem so silly anymore. There is real chemistry between Roberts and Bardem, and the romance is so delicious that the lumps are back in my throat again. Also hard to beat are Bardem's moments on the phone and in person with the young actor who plays his son. His joy and sadness are so real. Liz’s crusade to help a destitute mother in Bali by gathering donations from America also threatens to unravel me. Bali is so beautiful, Liz becomes so much more believable there, that the infinite 1.5 hours it took to get to this point don’t matter so much anymore.
And as the film wraps, I realize that, despite the harsh criticism from others, I appreciated Roberts’ craft, her ability to capture you with facial expression, some of the supporting players, the beauty of her stops in the world, and the quirky soundtrack, far more than I ever enjoyed the book. Screenwriters Jennifer Salt and Ryan Murphy (who directed; also from “Glee”, “Nip Tuck” and “Running With Scissors”) may have left the audience stranded and muddled for long stretches, but they did manage to eke out a film that, in a way, was entirely satisfying, since I knew what I was getting into before I went.
3 Stars. Worth a Look.