Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Review of Eat Pray Love
I'm not much of a reader. I watch too many movies to read books. When I do read a book, it's usually non-fiction and about a director. In fact, it wasn't until a few days before I saw this movie that I found out it was a very famous book. I still didn't want to know what it was about or really cared too. I didn't see any trailers or read a synopsis. A friend of mine told me it was about a middle-aged woman soul searching in different countries. Whatever...
Julia Roberts plays Liz. She is unhappily married to (an appropriately wooden) Billy Crudup (can't say I blame her) and has no meaning in her life. She ends her marriage and shacks up with a younger hunk played by James Franco. It's fine for awhile, but then she ends up feeling the same way she did when she was married. So, in order to find true happiness, she decides to leave her life behind and travel to Italy, India and Bali.
After the prologue, the film is divided into three sections. That's right! Eat, Pray, and Love. In Italy, she learns to let go and eat. Eating ends up being a substitute for passion, but she learns to be comfortable with herself (like purchasing bigger pants). In India, she learns how to pray and to be mindful. She also befriends a crude older man from Texas (Richard Jenkins) who mentors her on meditation. And Bali is the love section. She meets exotic handsome brute, Javier Bardem, and the two begin a love affair. Liz seems to have mastered Eat and Pray, but is she ready to really love someone?
I'm sure most guys will shutter at the very idea of this movie. Me? Chick flicks don't faze me, so I wasn't dreading it. Actually, I think the movie is more relatable to men than most would care to admit. I know plenty of guys who are unhappy with their life, or have settled in a decent paying job just to pay the bills, but aren't doing what they really want to do. That's what this movie is about. It's about letting go of everything that's mediocre in your life and just live it to the fullest. It's about finding yourself. Something that is relatable to anyone, I think. So yeah, I got into the story quite a bit.
It does take a while to get going and I had kind of a tough time taking James Franco's brooding seriously in the first 15 minutes, but once Liz finally embarks on her journey, the story really begins to take shape. Italy is absolutely gorgeous and Cinematographer Robert Richardson (KILL BILL, JFK) captures every corner of the country in beautiful detail. I really want to go there. For some reason, I liked the EAT part the best. We really get to see Liz become her own person for the first time, while she meets friends and eats in various restaurants. The pray section is good, but goes on perhaps for a bit too long. Jenkins' character borderlines on the corny as he speaks in cliched catchphrases, but his acting is affectionate and subtle enough for it to work. I probably would have cut a couple of the scenes involving a girl that Liz meets while scrubbing the floors of a monastery (or whatever it was they were in).
The last section is tricky, but I think the filmmakers pulled it off for the most part. Javier Bardem is sexy and extremely likable. The chemistry between his character and Liz is definitely there, and I really thought they were good for each other. I do think that some parts seemed a bit rushed, and even though the movie runs nearly 2hours and 20 minutes, I wouldn't have minded their relationship being explored a tad more. But overall, I think it works.
The reason why the movie stays afloat is Julia Roberts. Her portrayal of Liz is easily her best performance since ERIN BROCKOVICH. At 42, she looks great and was the perfect person to play Liz, who goes through all the emotions and Roberts nails every one. There's a scene early on when she is so scared to go through life, and it's heartbreaking because of the work that Julia does. She's very impressive here. Billy Crudup is mostly bland, but I think that was on purpose. But, he does have a great moment after the first divorce hearing that is a harsh and honest moment of realization for Liz. Like I said, Jenkins does a decent job even if his character is a little cheesy. Bardem doesn't just phone this one in, only looking handsome. He actually does some acting too, like in the scene when he talks about the love for his grown son. It's a beautiful moment of acting.
I have yet to see Ryan Murphy's first feature film (RUNNING WITH SCISSORS), but I thought he did a fine job here. There's plenty of second unit photography that makes a great travelogue, but Murphy's first hand direction also seems self-assured. He gives the actors room to breath and emote, not always going for the quick cuts. It's a mature film that has real weight to it. The script could have been a little stronger. I think the stories weren't equally balanced. I think the last section should have been expanded and the second one shortened. I can only imagine that writing the script must have been difficult given the structure of the source material. So taking that into consideration, I would say this film is fairly successful.
Even with it's (mostly minor) problems, EAT PRAY LOVE is a compelling story about a person learning out how to live life and love effortlessly. The film's biggest key to it's success, however, is Julia Roberts, who hasn't been this good in a long time. I enjoyed watching why she has become a household name in Hollywood. This is a great date movie, and I'm sure many close minded men will hate this, but I'm more like a woman anyway. So I liked it. Whatever. I'm fine with that.
*** (out of ****)