It’s not Julia Roberts that destroys Eat Pray Love. It’s the story, the characters and the grueling 133 minute runtime. The book by Elizabeth Gilbert, on which the film adaptation is based, has become a best-selling memoir and a highly regarded work, but the translation to the big screen is dull, boring and largely unaffecting. It tries to impress upon female liberationists the ideas of salvation, finding oneself and releasing guilt, but it ultimately looks like a mid-life crisis solved by good luck, extravagant food and plenty of money.
Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) visits Bali to write a magazine article, selecting a 9th generation medicine man named Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) as her subject. Instead of asking him worldly questions, she opts to inquire about her own personal life, her future and the decisions she should make. He tells her that she’ll have two marriages, one long and one short and that she’ll lose all of her money but gain it back again. Immediately she asks whether her current marriage will be the lengthy one, to which he responds with uncertainty. When Liz returns to New York, Ketut’s words stay with her, and she begins to doubt her happiness. Some call it a midlife crisis, but she feels that, despite having actively participated in every bit of her 8 year relationship to Stephen (Billy Crudup), from marriage to their new home, she made a mistake. Having nowhere to turn, she resorts to praying.
When God doesn’t help her, she files for divorce. Oddly, Gilbert is made to be the villain – everything she does and says is designed for an antagonist, which makes it incredibly difficult to side with her. We feel genuinely sorry for Stephen, who just wants a chance to correct faults he never knew existed. Shortly after leaving her husband, she meets David (James Franco) and the two seem to fall in love. But this relationship ends with broken hearts as well; one morning she concludes she doesn’t want to do it anymore, and leaves David too. She also learns that Stephen has finally agreed on the divorce, which involves Liz giving him everything she has financially. Since the first two parts of Ketut’s prophecy have come true, she doesn’t want to ignore its validity – so she decides to leave for Italy, even though her initial prediction is returning home in a week penniless, with dysentery. Despite having lost all of her money to her ex-husband, she is somehow able to fully support herself abroad for over a year, including renting houses, eating luxurious meals and buying souvenirs, all without working.
The first part of her self-discovery journey is Italy, where she meets new people, learns to speak a bit of the language, eats tons of food (shown via countless inserts of exotic dishes that surpass the likes of Julie and Julia), and discovers that Americans know entertainment but not pleasure. And to think her landlady assumes all foreigners come for the pasta and “sausage.” The solution to all the cuisine indulging is bigger jeans, as she learns about the “sweetness of doing nothing,” which is how Italians maintain high spirits – but it also leads to being alone with her thoughts, where she dwells on regret. Liz realizes that “ruin is the road to transformation,” so she becomes a little more accepting of her self-imposed familial destruction, and decides to head to India to pray. Here she meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), an elderly man with a sordid past of his own. Jenkins delivers the only truly affecting performance, and is easily the most rewarding and realistic pawn in Liz’ quest for the meaning of life. Finally, she returns to Bali, reunites with Ketut, and reconsiders the idea of love with Felipe (Javier Bardem).
Eat Pray Love is roughly divided into three parts, each symbolizing Liz’ accomplishment in the three titular areas. It’s so ploddingly paced that by the time Felipe is finally introduced, it’s greatly disconcerting to think that only two-thirds of the film is over. Also problematic is the imagery, which occasionally appears contradictory to the main motif; considering the vast number of female empowerment and freedom themes, a brief focus on an arranged marriage in India, or the rapid, unconvincing method in which Liz is coerced into following her heart is out of place. This sort of heavily melodramatic, drawn out story is made more preachy and implausible when all of Gilbert’s meditations, revelations, spiritual awakenings, and ambrosial meals come with a price tag and free time requirement the average woman couldn’t ever hope to afford or harmonize.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)