As a budding Indophile, spiritual seeker, hopeless romantic, and devoted viewer of two Ryan Murphy shows, I thought I’d have a whale of a time watching Eat Pray Love (2010)… but I barely had a minnow!
The movie sets its stall out in the opening scene, with the main character opining that no matter where a woman comes from, no matter what hardships she’s been through, the only thing she can ever think or talk about is her love life! This is borne out by the fact that while we’re vaguely aware that ‘Elizabeth Gilbert’ (Julia Roberts) earns a good living as a writer, we never actually see her struggle to type out anything more challenging than an e-mail to an ex-boyfriend. Books and plays simply flow out of her (off-screen) like guano from a gull, and she doesn’t give them a single moment’s thought! In one early scene we see her and a friend casually chatting about their relationships, as they make their way into a theatre to watch a small, off-Broadway play… but it’s only really through her flirting with the handsome lead actor (James Franco) at an after-party that we learn the play was written by Elizabeth herself!* The entire process of crafting, staging, rehearsing and advertising the play is completely elided! And clearly this is the first time she’s ever met the actor in person, which implies that she simply dashed off the script, handed it over to an unseen director, and never bothered to pop in to watch a run-through before the opening night! When did she write the play? Was it cathartic for her? Is she proud of it? Is she hoping it will move to a larger theatre? Is she worried about the reviews? I DON’T KNOW!!! And neither will anyone else watching this movie in isolation from the original memoir it was based on, because the main character is simply a cypher with no discernible hobbies, interests or occupation… a broken-hearted everywoman, looking for the hunky Mr Right who will make her life whole again. Feh.
Roberts is such an innately endearing actress, it would be physically impossible for me to actively dislike any character she plays… but it is perfectly possible for me to find their lives banal and uninvolving. As is often the case with book adaptations, this movie suffers from the Curse of Compression… but it also suffers from being based on a real persons’ life, since real life is often far too messy and convoluted to provide a streamlined and satisfying story arc. The central protagonist only really needs one painful break-up to set her story in motion, and she only really needs to visit one exotic foreign location to attain enough distance from her everyday ties and troubles to gain some clarity on her situation (or meet-cute with a sexy divorced guy, if you must). As it is, the movie is over-stuffed with empty calories… and what was with all those lingering close-ups of the meals she ate? It looked like the editor was just randomly flipping between the film footage and some food-porn cooking channel! Did this movie really need to be 140 minutes long? No, sir, it did not. Frankly, I found the whole thing about as enlightening as the first Sex and the City movie (which told basically the same story), and far, far less engaging/inspiring than Sandra Bullock’s 28 Days. Meh.
As is my wont, I have to give a shout-out to Rushita Singh, the Indian actress who played ‘Tulsi’, a fellow resident of the ashram Elizabeth attends. There is a brief sub-plot involving her character’s impending arranged marriage, which is forgotten as soon as the movie’s supposed heroine skips town. Did they have a happy marriage, or a miserable one? Is she crying herself to sleep every night, or is she happily bonking hubby’s brains out? Again, I DON’T KNOW, because Elizabeth never bothers to check up on her. Tulsi mentions that her husband’s family is “very, very wealthy”, but she doesn’t appear during the montage of well-wishers that Elizabeth sent begging e-mails to (on behalf of a homeless medicine-woman she meets), so I can only assume she went to live on the Moon, and hadn’t managed to hook up her broadband connection yet. Either way, Singh gave a very sweet performance in her first English-speaking role (as far as I can tell), and her IMDb resume insists that she’s “Authorized to work in United States”, so casting directors take note!
[Disclaimer: None of this is meant as an attack on the real Elizabeth Gilbert, who is obviously a far more accomplished writer than I’ll ever be… I’m simply reacting to the movie as a movie, and the character as a character. Bygones?]
* To be fair, there is a very brief shot of a poster as they enter the theatre, but her name is written in such a small font that by the time you’ve finished reading the play’s polysyllabic title (“Permeable Membrane”), chances are you’ll have missed the writer’s credit. I know I did, first time around.