Somewhere on its journey to the big screen, “Eat Pray Love” – the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” – lost not only its marquee-unfriendly subtitle, but even its two commas. It will compensate by inducing a much larger number of comas among its viewers.
For those who missed the book, Gilbert – a successful author increasingly dissatisfied with her life – got a divorce and embarked on a yearlong trip to Italy, India, and Bali in search of enlightenment or balance or some other balm to soothe her unease. She reportedly funded the trip with a hefty advance for the book, thus guaranteeing that she had better learn something knowing and wise, since “Writer scours world for meaning of life... Comes up empty-handed” is not a publisher’s dream pitch for display space at Barnes & Noble.
Julia Roberts stands in for Gilbert here, and her movie star persona overwhelms the character. We never for a minute forget who she is. Liz’s big lesson in the “Eat” segment – Liz must have trouble multitasking because there’s one titular activity per country – is to relax and experience pleasure, mainly in the form of Italian food. She encourages her friend Sofi (Tuva Novotny) to stop worrying about maintaining a rigidly low weight and join her in indulgence.
We are treated to a montage – filled with forced jauntiness – of the two women trying to squeeze into a succession of growing pants sizes. Except it’s still Roberts: Even if she did (as reported) gain a whole 10 pounds for the film, her cheekbones could still slice ripe tomatoes. “Letting go” means sliding from the top 1 percent of the population on the slenderness scale to the top 2 percent. (By the way, cinematographer Bob Richardson makes the pasta look so luscious that low-carbers will have to cover their eyes more than the most squeamish viewer at a Saw film.)
Even after the scene switches to India, we’re not allowed to forget Liz’s newfound appetite: A running gag has fellow ashrammer “Richard from Texas” (the always excellent Richard Jenkins) always calling her “Groceries” because of the way she can wolf it down.
But, in the Gilbert blueprint, India is supposed to be prayerful, not prandial. So Liz learns to meditate. This involves emptying her mind, which – judging from the banalities in the voice-over – shouldn’t require much heavy lifting, if you catch my drift. (She also takes what must be the shortest vow of silence ever.) It is hard to imagine anything less cinematic than trancing out; to portray it accurately would provide too tempting an invitation to the audience. While I can imagine taking pleasure in gazing at Roberts’s navel, there are few things less rewarding than gazing at Roberts gazing at Roberts’s navel.
Moving from bellybutton to Bali, the film finally allows Liz a carnal/romantic consummation, in the form of Felipe (Javier Bardem), a soulful Brazilian expat. They have their ups and downs, but end up literally sailing off into the sunset. No, that’s unfair: The boat has a motor.
What with the title and pedigree, no one would expect “Eat Pray Love” to be filled with thrilling action. But the word “movie” does imply movement, and almost nothing ever happens throughout the protracted two hours and 20 minutes that director/co-writer Ryan Murphy takes to chronicle Liz’s travels. Nor are the “meaningful lessons” worth the wait. During the India scenes, Liz accuses Richard from Texas of spouting a bunch of bumper-sticker slogans ... as though her revelations are any better. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, some sexual references, and male rear nudity.)
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