Some people are lucky in love; some people aren’t.
The record-breaking phenomenon of Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love has propelled her to fame, fortune and near-mythical status. After four years of best-seller lists, including translated versions around the globe, and over seven million copies in print, the story of Gilbert’s literal and spiritual journey has found its way to film.
Starring Julia Roberts as Elizabeth, the film remains true to the book in tone, plot, and spirit. Gilbert’s millions of fans, who are surely flocking to the theatres, won’t be disappointed. The film’s intrinsic qualities, the beautiful landscapes, and the beautiful people all enhance the romance and allure that made Gilbert’s story so appealing to so many women.
I know one or two men who might like this movie because they’re sensitive to the needs of women, but this is a woman’s film, totally and completely. It tugs all the right heartstrings. It strokes all the right places. It’s a woman’s memoir of her journey to find herself. That she finds love in the bargain is a bonus. Well-made and well-paced, “Eat, Pray, Love” works for its female audience, most of whom will forgive any flaws of sentimentality or overly vapid scenes.
For all those women who kept Eat, Pray, Love on the best seller list for 150 weeks, I’m sure that expectations run high. The cult of Elizabeth is real. Called “Lizbeths” by the locals, women flock to her rural New Jersey home to seek advice and pay homage to the woman who gave them the courage to find themselves, or at least to begin the journey.
Just as the book does, the film traces Gilbert’s search for her authentic self. She’s married to Stephen (Billy Crudup), a perfectly decent man who’s ready to start a family. He’s conventional and just a little boring. For the life of her, Liz (Julia Roberts) finds that she doesn’t want to play the game anymore. She’s worn down by putting up the appearance of being happy and of loving her husband when she doesn’t. When she finally has an epiphany while she’s languishing on her bathroom floor in the middle of the night, the voice of God speaks simply: “Go to bed.” So she does, but with newfound strength to do something about her unhappiness.
She sheds her old life and moves out. Her first stop is the home of her publisher and best friend Delia (Viola Davis), whose non-judgmental and supportive friendship helps Elizabeth start to piece herself together. Shortly, Elizabeth begins a relationship with David Piccolo (James Franco), a young actor whose focus rests on his work and not so much on Elizabeth.
When she realizes that she’s never been without a man, that she’s made the mistake of trying to find herself through her relationships with men, she determines to get to know herself, and the real journey begins. She determines to take a year off and go to Italy, India, and Bali — in that order.
In Italy, she learns about finding pleasure, about the joy of living for the moment, experiencing good food and good wine. She rents a simple apartment, learns Italian, and meets people. The life lessons run deep. She learns to live in the moment with more passion and less intellect.
After a few months, Liz moves on to India to live in an Ashram and seek spiritual truth. Although she learns to meditate at the foot of the master, her real lessons come from Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins), a man who has fought through a few demons of his own. From him, Liz learns to forgive herself.
Her last port of call is Bali, which she chose, in part, to fulfill a prophecy. Medicine man and healer Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subiyanto) offered her advice during her visit there the year before. “Think with your heart,” he told her. She begins to understand what that means. In Bali she meets Felipe (Javier Bardem), a Brazilian exporter whose heartfelt sensitivity takes Elizabeth by surprise. She learns to love again, and she does.
“Eat, Pray, Love” has inspired lots of women. If you’re one of them, good for you. Go for it. Eating, praying, and loving are never overrated.
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity.