Directed by: Ryan Murphy
Premise: An adaptation of the memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which the author takes a yearlong trip to Italy, India, and Indonesia in an attempt to piece her life back together after the breakup of her marriage.
What Works: Taken as escapist wish fulfillment directed at middle class women, Eat Pray Love delivers. The film has a great sense of humor and the narration by Julia Roberts as Gilbert has enough wit to keep it aloof even as it saturates the picture. Eat Pray Love also has some very strong supporting performances by Richard Jenkins as a Hindu practicing Texan, Hadi Subiyanto as a young Indian, and James Franco as an aspiring New York actor. These small roles give the film a lot of its life and reality.
What Doesn’t: Although Eat Pray Love works as an escapist daydream, the film claims to be more than that, which is primarily where it goes awry. Eat Pray Love is guilty of many things but chief among them is selling spiritual snake oil. Eat Pray Love both begins and ends with a woman in a fugue state, with little in between to challenge her or expand her consciousness. This is a film supposedly about healing and spiritual awakening but there just isn’t any of that in the story; Gilbert, as presented in this film, does not really suffer. Her initial heartbreak is poorly staged and unconvincingly conveyed and Eat Pray Love never digs a hole deep enough for Gilbert to have to crawl out of. And Gilbert’s solution to her existential crisis is questionable; the film does not confront the actual sources of her malcontent. Instead she spends her time eating in Italy without gaining much of an appreciation for bodily pleasures, praying in India but never achieving elevated consciousness, and loving in Indonesia without coming to any understanding of what love might mean. This is not a character growing into a new understanding of herself and the world; this is a woman drowning her mind in distraction. In fact, Eat Pray Love is not all that far departed from Sex and the City in its approach to human relationships and consumer culture. Aside from the thematic issues, there are noticeable weaknesses in the technical qualities of the film; the sound is often muffled and a lot of the lighting is ugly.
Bottom Line: Eat Pray Love is escapist entertainment, taking its viewers on a whirlwind tour of exotic locations. But the film is little more than a naively romantic travelogue and its pretensions get it into trouble.
Episode: #302 (August 22, 2010)