By Dirk Sonniksen | August 13, 2010
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Elizabeth Gilbert (novel), Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt
Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Richard Jenkins, Christine Hakim
Eat Pray Love is a film based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, a New York Times best seller that won’t seem to go away. I have not read Eat Pray Love, but if the movie is anything like the book, I had enough in theater, and need not spend my evenings crying onto page after page of drivel. The film revolves around Liz (Julia Roberts), a woman who has an epiphany, realizing she is not particularly happy with life, gets a divorce, eats a lot, goes on a Beatle-esque spiritual journey, and falls in love again. Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?
Eat Pray Love had potential; a competent director, a cast up for the task, and a premise that could have really been something special had the sappy storyline not gotten in the way. There are relationships in the film that could have been explored, dialogue that could have been written for said relationships, and actors to deliver dialogue. Simply put, this would have been a much better film had director Ryan Murphy taken the story more seriously. There is one shining example in the film of Murphy doing something right; case in point is the bond between Julia Roberts (Liz) and Richard Jenkins (Richard from Texas), a somewhat fleeting partnership with depth as well as dialogue that caught the audience’s attention and was not undermined by, well, a love story in the making.
Of all the negatives in Eat Pray Love, the most glaring is the completely irrelevant narration by Julia Roberts. Again, I have not read the book, but I am fairly certain the narration was taken directly from said book, a tactic that most likely proved useful for the faithful Elizabeth Gilbert fanatics, but ultimately distracts from what could possibly be a decent film. Julia Roberts’ slow, tiresome narration of love, heartache, and jokes that aren’t at all funny, is simply nonsense for audience members pining for more of what they got in the book.
While I fully realize it is one of the main ideas of the story, Eat Pray Love lingers much too long on Gilbert’s divorce, her avoidance, and just plain being sad. We get it, you were unhappy, you got a divorce, and now you’re searching. There is simply too much of the same thing over and over again, namely Julia Roberts being forlorn or being freakishly happy. Director Ryan Murphy could have easily shaved twenty minutes of redundancy off of Eat Pray Love, making it a much more potent film.
One cannot condemn Murphy’s casting choices. Julie Roberts was certainly the perfect choice for the nonstop reaction shots that Liz displays throughout the film. As for Roberts’ performance, it’s Julie Roberts playing the Pretty Woman character, except she cries more in this film. There’s a myriad of other performances that were par for this kind of movie, but Richard Jenkins’ performance stood out among the others. Jenkins comes in mid-way through the film, and not only delivers an excellent performance overall, but pulls off a fantastic monologue—certainly the highpoint of the film.
So let’s break this down, shall we? Love stories are much more tangible when they have substance: fewer reaction shots, more substance. There was enough to work with here to make this a solid film, but ultimately Eat Pray Love falls victim to its own storyline, and ends up another silly love story rather than a credible piece of filmmaking.