Preeti Arora reviews Eat Pray Love.
From book to screen for even a work of fiction is a daunting task. The novelist has time on his hands as compared to the poor director who works with far too many constraints. Books by successful fiction writers such as Nicholas Sparks stay on the bestseller list for weeks at a time. The film adaptations however are a different story.
Eat Pray Love of course falls into a different genre. An unhappy disoriented New Yorker realises she has no idea what she wants from life. And she hopes escaping from this chaos and confusion to exotic faraway locales will bring her true and lasting happiness.
Based on Elizabeth Gilbert's novel, Eat Pray Love (the movie) is the story of Liz (Julia Roberts) a writer in her early thirties who is going through a 'so-called' traumatic divorce. Barely has she stepped out of the marital home when she ends up in the arms of her lover David. A few weeks of sexual bliss and the fights begin. So does the desire to flee...
It is from this point itself the film is flawed. Liz's pain and angst just don't come through. For the first forty-five minutes we wait patiently while Liz weeps on the bathroom floor, offers to write off her entire bank balance (do such women really exist?) in exchange for her freedom and sifts through travel brochures looking more like a lovelorn teenager than an angst-ridden writer.
And finally the film enters the first phase...Eat. Liz starts out in Rome but ends up in Naples. And after travelling halfway across the world she decides she's going to devour pizza because there is no reason to starve. Her next lover can accept her with the extra flesh. Of course the Italian cafes have been highly romanticised. And the Italians all seem to be lounging around hoping to teach the tourist American population all about enjoying life. Cliched to the core!
The cliches of course continue. The director Ryan Murphy saw no reason to spare India. The crazy traffic, the urchins peering into the car, the cows being bathed at roadside dhabbas, and of course the all pervading mosquitoes. And in just a few weeks time Liz manages to learn the art of meditation and controls her mind from focusing on inanities. Wow!
It's only when Liz finally gets to Bali the film perks up a little bit. And more than the director the credit goes to Javier Bardem (Felipe) the handsome middle-aged man who woos her single-mindedly. Javier delivers a mature performance where he cries as easily as he laughs. But this isn't a run of the mill Hollywood chick flick so the audience isn't provided with a feel-good ending. You just hope Liz has sorted out her issues because she has had approximately a hundred and fifty minutes of screen time to do so. A long film which is often headed nowhere.
Where the film fails miserably is the first two sections. Liz while she is in Italy spends her time studying Italian, learning to be alone and steering clear of romantic involvements hoping to clear the cobwebs which have collected in her mind through eight years of an unhappy marriage.
In India she tries to cultivate her spiritual side, in order to become a stronger person. To prevent her mind from flying in different directions! But this primary aspect just doesn't come through. Liz just looks like another tourist passing through. Guess austerity and spirituality aren't easy to depict on screen.
Apart from Javier the other credible performance was delivered by Richard Jenkins, Liz's soulmate at the ashram in India. His pain and suffering is authentic and strikes a chord.
Julia Roberts is absolutely the wrong choice to play the role of Liz. Liz is thirty something and Julia even with all her greasepaint looks much older. But ignore this vital fact and she comes through as a winner. Her tremendous screen presence helps to save the film from turning into a complete disaster.
Julia Roberts fans must see this film. The others can give it a try if they're willing to take a risk. But don't say we didn't warn you!