By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin August 13, 2010 at 4:01AM
I don’t think one should have to read a novel in order to enjoy its screen adaptation, but if you have read a particular book, chances are you’re going to get more out of the film than someone who hasn’t. You’ll remember the experience you had as a reader and fill in some of the details the movie has skipped. Several female friends who’ve seen Eat Pray Love told me how much they loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and the movie (adapted by director Ryan Murphy in collaboration with Jennifer Salt). I can’t help but feel they had an advantage over me.
Eat Pray Love is an ideal vehicle for the Julia Roberts, a sumptuous—
—travelogue, and a great film for foodies. It has an intelligent script, good performances, and beautiful scenery…but I had trouble relating to the main character. I didn’t understand why she is unhappy in her marriage (to Billy Crudup) or why she ends it so abruptly. I also don’t understand why her rebound relationship with a charming James Franco leaves her feeling empty and dissatisfied.
I recognize the central concept of Roberts’ character having to discover who she is as an individual, and not just in relationship to a man. But I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t empathize with her constant restlessness and angst. (Is this simply because I’m a man? I don’t think so; I respond to other female protagonists and their problems.)
What’s more, the movie is ultimately about love—of friends, food, and fellow human beings (like the charismatic Javier Bardem, who’s cast as a divorced Brazilian man now living in Bali). I’m not sure if Roberts’ problem is that she didn’t know how to love because she didn’t love herself, or if she just didn’t choose the right partners. Either way, there isn’t really a feeling of catharsis—for her or for us—as the movie comes to a close.
Meanwhile, Eat Love Pray at least offers compensations: an attractive, well-chosen cast, eye-filling locations, and all that great Italian food. There are worse ways to spend your time in a movie theater—much worse. But I didn’t find the two hour-plus experience terribly compelling.