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Eat Pray Love

Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

HOW much you enjoy Eat Pray Love depends largely on how much you can sympathise with the ‘plight’ of its lead character. But even if, like me, you struggle with the journey, there’s still plenty to admire in Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular best-seller.

For starters, Murphy’s use of location serves as a great travelogue that each country’s respective tourist boards must be proud of, while there are several supporting performances to savour.

The film itself follows the fortunes of New Yorker Liz Gilbert, a woman who suddenly comes to realise she is unhappy in her life and marriage. Deciding on a divorce, she embarks on an affair with a young actor (James Franco), only to find that this new relationship also fails to offer her the things she is looking for.

Desperate for change, she resolves to spend a year travelling the world – opting for lengthy stays in Rome, at an ashram in India and in Bali where she finds, respectively, food, prayer and romance.

In novel form, Eat Pray Love has remained on the New York Times best-seller list for an astonishing 187 weeks and has proved inspirational to countless readers.

In film form, this inspirational journey is less convincing, having been necessarily condensed to fit the confines of a movie. Incredibly, it’s still too long but Murphy – as both co-screenwriter and director – doesn’t lose his viewers completely, thanks largely to some smart casting and inspired use of location.

If Roberts’ Gilbert comes across as a little too self-absorbed and whiney a lot of the time, she’s surrounded by colourful characters, such as Richard Jenkins’ wonderful ‘Richard from Texas’ and Javier Bardem’s effortlessly charismatic Felipe.

Rome, too, serves as a wonderfully seductive character in its own right, with Murphy capturing the passion and gesticulations that are incumbent with ‘being Italian’, as well as the delicious culinary treats that await any visitor to Italy.

Of the actors, though, Jenkins enlivens the India segment considerably, delivering an absorbing foil for Roberts who is, by turns, acerbic, witty, confrontational and ultimately haunted. His big moment of confession is a tear-jerking master-class in emotion that underlines what a great actor Jenkins is.

Bardem, meanwhile, adds energy and passion to the Bali segment, breathing fresh life into proceedings just as the bum starts to numb!

Roberts herself isn’t bad, merely constrained by the limitations imposed by the endless insecurities of her character… whose rollercoaster of emotions are difficult to truly sympathise with given the privileged position in which she continually finds herself in. It’s arguably her most mature performance but the character simply is the least interesting aspect of the film.

That said, if you understand her need for enlightenment and her perpetual angst – and it will strike a chord with many people out there, as it did in the novel – then Murphy’s movie is, by turns, romantic, beautiful to behold and moving. And even if it fails to illicit your sympathy, it’s still two out of three of those things, which isn’t a bad recommendation.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 133mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 7, 2011