REVIEW: Two Out of Three Isn't Bad For Gorgeous, Globetrotting Eat Pray Love
There are three kinds of women in the world: Those who refuse to read Elizabeth Gilbert's mega-girly, mega-best-seller 2006 memoir Eat Pray Love; those who will damn well read it if they want to, even on the subway, and don't care what anyone else thinks; and those who, wanting or needing to see what all the fuss is about before seeing the movie, send their husbands into the bookstore to ask for it, lest they be marked as a woman who might be interested in reading "that" book.
I fall into that last category, and I'm here to report that neither "that" book nor the movie that's been made from it -- directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Julia Roberts, as a woman who finds herself by traveling the world -- is as bad as I'd feared. Gilbert's book details the year in which, after a messy divorce, she trekked to Italy, India and Indonesia -- her friends teased her mercilessly about those three I's, suggesting it would be a lot less trouble just to do the "Great Tri-State 'I' Triumvirate" of Islip, I-95 and IKEA -- as a way of finding some much-needed balance in her life. Cut to 2010: The book has become a big-budget picture, shot in some pretty glorious locales and featuring a big-name movie star. It doesn't even have to be any good, and people will still flock to see it.
Murphy's version of Eat Pray Love may not be perfect. But it doesn't pander to its built-in audience as that most recent horror show, Sex and the City 2, did. Nor does it suffer from the terminal cuteness of the Julie Powell sequences of Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia, another picture marketed heavily to women (although, thankfully, the Julia Child sections constitute at least half a good movie). Eat Pray Love has been made with some thought and care; the script, in particular, adapted by Murphy and Jennifer Salt, faithfully captures the easy-going rhythms and self-effacing good humor of Gilbert's prose. And if the movie falters in the middle -- the dreaded "pray" section -- it at least rebounds in the last third, when Javier Bardem appears, like a knight in a shining jeep, rambling over some pretty bumpy Indonesian roads, to play Roberts' love interest.
Eat Pray Love opens just as Roberts' Liz -- as she's called in the movie -- is realizing her life is falling apart. She has no desire to have a baby with her husband (Billy Crudup, in the somewhat thankless role of the cad). In fact, she suddenly realizes that despite the extremely comfortable life she's built (having written some successful books, the proceeds from which have bought her a nice, big house) that she doesn't want to be married at all. A fling with a young actor (played by everybody's favorite sensitive young hunk, James Franco) ends in tears. So she decides to pack it all in for a year: She'll spend four months in Italy studying Italian and eating, though perhaps not necessarily in that order; four in India, under the tutelage of a guru; and four in Indonesia, where, on an earlier trip, she'd befriended a kindly ninth-generation medicine man (played by the charmingly toothless Hadi Subiyanto) who'd invited her to come back sometime and help him improve his English.
In Italy, Liz eats to beat the band (we're treated to lots of loving close-ups of pasta dishes and pizzas) and learns the importance of feeling OK about being too fat for her jeans. In Indonesia, she embarks on a romance with Bardem's Brazilian hottie Felipe -- as they drift through on open-air market, he tells her which fruits taste as if "an orange made love to a plum" and which taste more like "dirty feet." Meanwhile, cinematographer Robert Richardson (who has worked frequently with Tarantino and Scorsese, as well as Oliver Stone -- can't win 'em all) follows them around lovingly through these natural settings with his camera and healthy doses of sunlight: Both the movie and its stars are bathed in a relentless golden glow, as if God Himself, whoever or wherever He is, had just graduated from USC film school and was eager to prove how well He could light a set -- a set which He Himself, incidentally, built in just six days, coming in way under budget.
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