Like many movie goers, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the film “Eat Pray Love” when it first appeared in theaters on August 13. I suppose I was comparing it, not completely favorably, with Elizabeth Gilbert’s imaginative memoir of the same name. But recently I had a chance to see the movie again and this time I appreciated “Eat Pray Love” for what it is: a moving film about…love.
“Eat Pray Love”, directed by Ryan Murphy, stars Julia Roberts as Liz, a woman emerging from an unpleasant divorce and a painful love affair, who decides to search for recovery in Italy, India and Indonesia. The movie is a colorful romp through three dynamic countries—but even more, it is the journey of a woman alone, without a man, and without love (until the end). In this respect the film captures the essence of the book perfectly, reveling in “alone times” such as when Liz makes herself a delicious Italian meal of asparagus with olive oil, goat cheese, salmon and tomato, and eats this sitting on the floor of her Roman apartment, wearing a purple silk negligee. Roberts is perfect as the smart, cagey but vulnerable Liz, wise enough to know what she needs to do to heal herself of a broken heart, yet afraid, at times, to do it.
The Italian sequences are a visual potpourri of sensual delights: the food, the gorgeous young crowd of friends Liz attracts, and of course, the lovely scenery. Things grow a bit more difficult when Liz travels to an ashram in India, the film’s weakest section (and the book’s strongest). Fortunately Liz—and the movie—are helped out by “Richard from Texas” (Richard Jenkins), who translates what Liz needs to learn from Indian meditation into American idiom, both for Liz and the audience. By the end of Liz’s stay in the ashram she’s learned to meditate and seems to have accepted who she is with a great deal of humility.
The film reaches its most enchanting moments in Bali, which is served up as a virtual paradise. In Bali, Liz can meditate in the morning and find pleasure at night. It’s called “balance”, we’re told, and it’s presented as irresistible, from Liz’s first encounter with an Indonesian medicine man right up through her “accidental” meeting with her future lover, Felipe (Javier Bardem). This meeting, accompanied by sexy Brazilian music, signals the tone for the remainder of the film, where Liz learns she can have all the independence and wisdom she learned on her solo quest and still partake of love with the soulful Felipe.
There’s some very enjoyable acting in “Eat Pray Love”; Julia Roberts, of course, who is always expressive, keeps the film moving on a beautiful trajectory. Richard Jenkins will probably receive an awards nomination for his supporting role as “Richard from Texas” in the ashram. Billy Crudup is convincing as Liz’s suffering ex-husband, and Javier Bardem is especially fun to watch in the soft, sensual role of Felipe.
“Eat Pray Love” is about losing love and then finding it again. It’s about regret, and getting over regret. One of the film’s most touching scenes is a fantasy sequence in the ashram where Liz and her now ex-husband are dancing at their wedding. You can feel Liz’s compassion for her husband, whom she no longer loves—but also her regret at not doing so. It’s this soulful refrain which gives the movie its own special flavor…but we may not discover it until we take a second look.