There's a moment near the end of "Eat Pray Love" where Liz (Julia Roberts) is really unhappy with Felipe (Javier Bardem) because he planned a surprise trip to a small island off Bali's coast for just the two of them. Heck, he even led her to the water with her eyes closed, only to be told she can't (or better said, she won't) go and doesn't love him. Most memorable, however, is how a vein in Liz's forehead engulfs with blood and throbs as she screams and gestures, thus simultaneously canceling out any prior liking earned by her character.
Of course, director Ryan Murphy would rather his audience remember this Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment adaptation for things like Liz's strong willed divorce of her husband or thrilling adventures in Italy. Sadly, those line items lacked any personality, just like most of the characters in this surprisingly popular film that did strong business at the box office and is based on author Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia." The 2006 book and 2010 film were popular enough (some credit here goes to Oprah Winfrey, who did a few shows about the book) and made money, but that's only half the story. The rest, at least as it relates to the film, is more or less about a woman who can't deal with her problems and chooses the path of least resistance. She runs away.
Even though a throbbing forehead vein is the sad visual I'll keep ripe in my brain long after "Eat Pray Love" exits my DVD library, the most discouraging element is that the film suggests any white American woman can simply disappear (being rich helps, you know) and go to find herself in other parts of the world. Never mind responsibility, commitment or obligation. Forget your friends, family and loved ones. Oh, and don't expect to have any trouble making new acquaintances along the way, usually with excessive alcohol and sexual innuendo to jazz the whole package up a tad. I suppose if everyone just went for it like Roberts does in this film, the allure would go away really quick. Having said that, one can't help but wonder why a movie like this would even be made, as it injures the curious sentiment around such an adventure.
There is a plot, mind you, but we've basically gone through it. Liz no longer loves her husband Steven (Billy Crudup) and divorces him so she can find what she really wants in life. She tries it domestically by staying in New York (movies like this always seem to run through that city) and sleeps around with David (James Franco), a semi-bohemian actor, for a little bit. Eventually, she gets bored and hitches a ride to the airport from best friend Delia (Viola Davis), stopping in Italy to befriend, drink with and get to know Sofi (Tuva Novotny), Giovanni (Luca Argentero) and Luca (Guiseppe Gandini). After she comes to speak flawless Italian, Liz peaces out again, stopping in India to befriend Tulsi (Rushita Singh) and Richard (Richard Jenkins), individuals who teach her how to channel her focus and really find out what's eating her at an ashram. India too gets old, and Liz wraps things up in Bali, where more healers, advisors and wise people give her advice you could get from a fortune cookie before she hooks up with Felipe.
This isn't the first film I've seen where a director, writer and producer have put all their eggs in the Julia Roberts basket. It also isn't the first where she's seized that basket and dropped it from a really tall building. Her performance is arrogant and cruel, dropping into and out of people's lives for her own gain and selfish so-called enlightenment. "Eat Pray Love" wouldn't let those who she gets to know leave unfulfilled however, and of course, their lives are made better by her mere presence. But the idea that Roberts is radiant, charming or even really convincing as a woman on a personal crusade simply doesn't cut it, perhaps because the role requires her to put down her familiar strong female character torch and actually listen to others around her without a sarcastic or sexually charged comment fired back.
Don't be deceived by names like Bardem, Franco and Crudup, either. Like the main character, each has baggage, is shallow and looks out for himself first and others second. What's fascinating is how bored Liz gets with these guys, and maybe more so, how fast. Her attention span is either very brief, or they are simply so boring and miserable she can't stand them. Perhaps it's a little of both. The excuse she'd give you, of course, is that good old "It's not you, it's me" mumbo jumbo. Somehow, that too sounds eerily accurate.
If there is a strong point, it's that "Eat Pray Love" was filmed across the world in New York, Rome, Pataudi (India) and Bali (Indonesia). The locations, especially Rome and Bali, look stunning. There is quite a bit out there to see and take in, but perhaps a different context might better serve the average person's situation. Make no mistake, "Eat Pray Love" feels authentic, especially with its emphasis on culture in addition to one woman's journey through it.
The bottom line is that no matter how many nice things Liz does for those she meets in "Eat Pray Love," (and there is one gesture toward the end that will make even critical persons like myself say it was really remarkable) they don't cancel out the fact that her status and privilege are what enable her to stand on her soapbox and be depressed, and ultimately enable her to leave her life behind so she can hunt for what really matters. This concept suggests that anyone can pack up and go, but only if you can afford it. Thankfully, a cheaper option exists.
Sony's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer to standard definition DVD is pretty strong, especially in scenes where natural sunlight (and there's quite a bit to go around) is evident. Dark colors don't pop with anywhere near the same vibrancy, and occasionally, film grain makes "Eat Pray Love" look sandblasted or faded. Overall, however, the image holds its own as crisp and clear. Cinematography also has moments that are creative and non-conformist, including 180 and 360 degree aerial shots mixed in with close-ups and pretty standard stuff.
"Eat Pray Love" has among the less memorable English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio soundtracks I've run across lately. It's fine, clear and audible from start to finish, and the music selections are occasionally catchy, but there isn't much more to say beyond this. Vocals are loud and clear, while natural background noise has high and low points that stood out due to their irregularity. Other audio options include a French Dolby Digital 5.1, while subtitle offerings are provided in Spanish, English and French.
In addition to the 140 minute theatrical version, the DVD includes a 146 minute director's cut, plus movie making insights from director Murphy. These aside, the special features are as unexciting as the audio.
A Final Word:
I expected more from a film with big names and based on a book that did big business. Instead, "Eat Pray Love" merely provides a window into how leading a life of privilege makes a single woman able to get herself so happy and so sad in the same foreign location. Perhaps someday, we can all be this fortunate.