With Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup. Directed by Ryan Murphy. Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity. 133 minutes.
Even if you were not the target audience of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, this film version of EAT PRAY LOVE is one that ought to speak to anyone who’s hit a rough patch in their personal lives, particularly in a marriage or relationship. Let the cynics scoff – this is a movie that’s beautiful to look at that will leave you with some food for thought, as well.
Julia Roberts, in her best role since “Erin Brockovich,” plays Liz, a writer who travels the world, but can’t seem to find a home. Her husband (Billy Crudup) loves her but can’t seem to grow up, constantly changing jobs and goals. The marriage ends badly with Liz walking out. She soon takes up with a young actor (James Franco) who introduces her to meditation, but that relationship sours as well. The best he can offer is that they can be happy being unhappy together.
Liz simply doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. She decides to go on a journey of discovery which the title simply and effectively summarizes. She eats her way through Italy, prays at an ashram in India and finds love in Bali when she meets a similarly wounded divorced man (Javier Bardem). However that doesn’t begin to do justice to the discoveries she makes and the insights she gains each step of the way.
The Italian portion isn’t simply about the food, although the shots of it being prepared may leave your mouth watering. It’s about learning to enjoy the moment and what life has to offer and not thinking that each moment of pleasure must be “earned.” In India she crosses paths with a pushy and loud Texan (Richard Jenkins in another great character turn) who forces her to get past the gimmicks and quick fixes and face who she really is and what she really wants. Which brings her to Bali, ostensibly to do some work for a wizened medicine man she met on a previous trip, but really to open her heart again and not be afraid of the uncertainty inherent in any romance.
With fine support from Jenkins, Bardem, Crudup, Franco and Viola Davis as her New York editor and friend, this is Roberts’s movie all the way. She’s rarely offscreen and it is Liz’s journey that is the focus of the story. Roberts captivated audiences in fluffy comedies like “Pretty Woman” but now in her 40s she’s able to convey her serious side as well. She’s still beautiful but she has some miles on her now. When she breaks down over the confusion of her life, she makes the pain real.
Ultimately this is a movie about the adult version of the questions kids ask about what they’ll be when they grow up. “Eat Pray Love” is about a middle-aged woman trying to find out who she wants to be now that she has grown up. Audiences will be glad to accompany her on the road to self-discovery.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.