I have nothing against women or women empowerment in chick flicks – unless the film is poorly made. But like other recent films tackling such bold subject matter (The Women), Eat Pray Love doesn’t know how to handle such topics without backsliding.
Famous New York-based feature writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts, Valentines Day) is about to have a mid-life crisis. Why? We don’t really know. Her husband of eight years (Billy Crudup, Big Fish) is indecisive about his business ventures. Although this may not seem like much to us, for Liz, this is main cause of her unhappiness. So without even giving him a chance, without giving him an explanation, she divorces him and moves on to another much younger ambitious guy (James Franco, Milk).
Before long the new infatuation dies off and Liz is really unhappy. So, once again, without rhyme or reason, she leaves another man. But this time she is more drastic about it. Liz decides to take a leave of absence from work and travel for one year. She will spend four months in Italy (where she will eat), four months is India (where she will learn to pray) and four months in Bali (where she will presumably learn to love again).
If you applied Eat Pray Love’s relationship moral “It’s OK to leave your husband when things are less than perfect” to your movie-going experiences, you would walk out early. Glee creator Ryan Murphy poorly directs this fairly simply screenplay. There is a lack of focus in nearly every scene that causes you to look at other parts of the screen than those where the actors are. The high quantity of quick jump shots are a headache-causing distraction. There are so many unappetizing close-up shots of food in the first third of the film that you will lose all appetite and become nauseated. A movie of this low caliper requires the least fancy and easiest traditional cinematography – something that Murphy is incapable of achieving.
When Liz leaves her husband in the beginning of the film, we (the audience) haven’t seen any reason for her leaving. When he breaks down and begs her to come back, the scene is played off in a comical manner although we feel more for him than we do for her. She comes across as a selfish wench who is pouting because married life is not a happy little fairytale. It isn’t until the end of the second act that we see a brief flashback that gives us insight into why she didn’t love him anymore – he was selfish. Even then, why didn’t she try to work it out?
Films like The Women and Eat Pray Love feel the need to emphasize how little women need men, yet go back on their own ideal by having the “strong female” getting together with a man in the end. Doesn’t that go against everything they were going for? If you are going to make a bold assessment like that, then be bold about it and stick with it. Don’t end on an unoriginal clichéd note.
Despite its many flaws, there are two things that keep Eat Pray Love fresh and real: the spirituality and the male actors.
The topics of religion and spirituality are almost completely absent in contemporary films. It is refreshing to see a film tackle those topics so unapologetically. In one scene we see Liz pour her heart out in prayer to a God that she isn’t even sure exists. Be a religious person or not, that scenario can draw more pure, intense emotion than almost any other.
The men of Eat Pray Love give stronger performances with their sub-par material than Julia Roberts does as the lead. While Roberts plays the same character as always (constantly opening her huge mouth in surprised explosive bursts of obviously forced “BWA-HA-HA” laughter), the men really shine. Because of Crudup’s genuine honesty in the beginning of the film, we root for his character over Liz. When Franco’s character enters the picture, we enjoy him for his upbeat and positive attitude. Just like her ex-husband, he is absolutely torn up when she leaves him due to her own unhappiness. (Wouldn’t that be the pot calling the kettle black? She leaves her husband because of his selfishness, yet leaves him and the next boyfriend due to her own!). We see how cruel she is when leaving him and how torn up it makes him and once again root for the lonely guy.
Upon arriving in India, Liz meets an unreserved old cuss named Richard (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor and Dear John). Just like Liz, Richard carries some baggage. While the little we see and know about Richard is somewhat manipulative in a storytelling way, the way Jenkins portrays him is a memorable one. His raw honesty is unforgettable. Jenkins is always this good, so keep you eyes open for him.
And joining the film for the final act is Academy Award winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Although he won his Oscar for playing the disturbing assassin Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, he is fully capable of playing “normal” characters too. Eat Pray Love does nothing more for him than show his versatility. There is nothing this guy can’t do well.
No guy in his right straight mind will enjoy Eat Pray Love. If you know anything about filmmaking – which director Ryan Murphy obviously doesn’t – it will drive you nuts. Unless you are a women, you will not get what it is about nor enjoy the supposed life-changing adventure it takes you on. Guys, go see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or The Expendables while the ladies go see this.
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures