Tonight I saw Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.
I can understand why some people won't like this film.
Jaded, cynical critics are practically forbidden from publicly praising any movie based on a "woman's journey," especially if that woman is an upper-middle-class white thirtysomething that seemed to have it all when she lost her mind.
As a critic who can admittedly be jaded and cynical much of the time, if I hadn't read the book I doubt I would've gone near the multiplex, but here's the thing: I did read the book, and I loved it.
Maybe it was timing? I don't know. I had just suffered the worst breakup of my life in the year prior to this book being released, so perhaps the story was literary tonic for me in the aftermath. All I know is that once I began reading it, I began calling other women in my life to see if they'd read it, and if they hadn't I was buying extra copies or loaning mine out so they could.
The film, based closely on the book, focuses on Liz Gilbert (Roberts)—a successful writer in Pennsylvania who decides she doesn't like being married, though nothing concrete is really wrong with her marriage. She breaks her husband's heart into a million pieces by suddenly walking out on him, then she embarks on an affair with a Much Younger Man, basically chewing him up and spitting him out too. Actions like this can leave one feeling very guilty and empty inside, so that's where the journey begins.
Liz decides to restore balance in her life by traveling for a year. It sounds terribly cliché and the fact that she had the money and time to do this makes many sour in jealousy, but amidst all of those privileges, it's hard not to feel sorry for how lost her soul truly is.
First, she ventures to Italy where she falls in love with the language and most importantly, the food. The book goes into greater detail, but the movie still brims with pasta and wine and pizza [Eat], so we're okay. In Rome, she also makes friends who encourage her to stop and smell the roses, which proves to be a valuable suggestion later in her trip. If only the film had captured more of Italy's ambiance, this section would have been more satisfying.
Second, she heads to India to learn how to Pray. This proves to be the most difficult task for anxiety-ridden Liz until she meets Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins). Richard is an emotionally wounded tough guy who tells it like it is and nicknames her "Groceries" (due to her fondness for food). In the book, the guy is barely likable; in the movie, Jenkins makes you weep for him. Seriously, if there is a performance to be noted in this film, it is Richard Jenkins. Every time he enters a frame we hang on his every word because we know we'll be entertained or even moved. He's enormously endearing and when it's time for him to leave in the film, we almost wish we could go with him.
Last, Liz lands in Bali where she inevitably falls in Love (though that's the last thing she planned to do). Felipe (Bardem), her lover, is sexy and warm and charming all at once and she is strong-willed putty in his hands. Roberts and Bardem don't have any special chemistry, but they're pleasant enough to watch as two divorcees finding their way back to beating hearts.
Overall, the film stays very faithful to the book. Nothing crucial is cut; no major portion of the story altered to meet Hollywood standards.
It's not the greatest work of cinema, but it's certainly not awful or hard to watch. That said, if you hated the book, chances are you'll hate this too.
But I didn't.