The title says it all—Eat Pray Love—a mantra being adopted by women across the globe. I can understand the memoir’s general appeal, but Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale is a very specific, personal journey. This isn’t some self-help book on starting anew and discovering oneself. It is an account of Gilbert’s cathartic—and inspirational—sojourn through Rome, India, and Bali..
“Nip/Tuck” and “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy is behind the heavily anticipated adaptation; Julia Roberts portrays Gilbert. I went along with a friend who had finished the book hours before our screening and, while she didn’t love the book, she did acknowledge that she could see herself enjoying the film more if she hadn’t read it. And I do understand that reaction, because Eat Pray Love is a very well made movie. I can’t say whether it could have been stronger had more from the book been included—the running time already exceeds two hours—but I can say that Murphy and writing partner Jennifer Salt appear to have done their best to distill it all down to its necessary core.
Roberts’s Gilbert is a well-to-do writer married to a dreamer with too many aspirations and not enough drive, who realizes that her life is nowhere near what she wants it to be. Never denying her love for Stephen (Billy Crudup), Gilbert also can’t shake the feeling that staying married to him would be more selfish than letting him go.
It’s hard to accept that a cherished spouse could one day wake up and leave. But divorce is common now, and Gilbert’s entire future hinges on hers. Marital journeys are important with other characters in the film. Christine Hakim’s Wayan is only allowed to function in life by separating from her husband, and Rushita Singh’s Tulsi is arranged to marry at age sixteen. The simple fact that it all leads to love again has to count for something, though. The path may be unorthodox and the cast of characters a mixture of good, bad, and strange, but the endings do resemble some version of “happily ever after.”
I may have issues with the way the film conveniently progresses, starting with an elderly Balinese medicine man Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) telling Gilbert she will marry twice, lose her money, and eventually return to train with him—can you say foreshadowing?—and the formula that she meets at least one person in each country with much bigger problems than she.
But Julia Roberts is very good as Gilbert, giving a nuanced performance that’s equal parts joyful, soulful, confident, and lost. Javier Bardem is fantastic as Felipe, a broken soul with too much love to give; Crudup and James Franco are ideal as the men she loves but must leave; and Richard Jenkins is endearing and devastating. His character’s story is heartbreaking, and his delivery bracingly authentic. Both Gilbert and the audience can rest assured that if he can find peace, nothing can stop us from doing the same.