When the heroine of the film “Eat Pray Love” arrives in Rome, her landlady rolls her eyes and mutters under her breath that American women come to Italy for only two things: pasta and (raising her eyebrows with a dirty gleam in her eye) “sausage.”
“Eat Pray Love”
At Quality 16 and Rave
The landlady has a point, as the vast majority of “Eat Pray Love” centers around food and men. Elizabeth (Julia Roberts, “Duplicity”) is a middle-aged travel writer whose marriage has fallen apart. She flings herself into the arms of David (James Franco, “Pineapple Express”), a pseudo-spiritual younger man. This relationship fails as well, and Elizabeth decides she has no idea who she is. In order to find herself, she goes on a yearlong trip to Italy, where she eats; India, where she prays; and Bali, where she finally learns to love.
The premise of the movie is completely self-indulgent, making the plot drag for the whole 133-minute run time. Elizabeth whines and complains about her problems, rather than doing anything to fix them. When she finally decides to do something about her life, the solution she devises is to take a trip where she will focus only on herself — not that she hasn’t been focused completely on herself anyway.
As a result, the entire film is a middle-aged rant about how miserable and lost this woman is — never mind the beautiful Italian countryside or the poverty in Bali and India. It takes Elizabeth far too long to realize that maybe helping others instead of seducing men just might help her feel more fulfilled and purposeful.
“Eat Pray Love” is so focused on Elizabeth and her insufferable personality that it never explores the charming characters or places the film briefly introduces. Elizabeth makes some very entertaining friends (portrayed by Tuva Novotny, “Dear Alice,” and Richard Jenkins, “Dear John”) and eats the single most delicious-looking plate of spaghetti ever captured in a movie.
Sadly, the vitality of the landscapes and characters is exchanged for a desperate search for spirituality in a bleak ashram in India where Elizabeth attempts to meditate (i.e., thinks about how to best decorate her meditation room in her apartment back in America).
India is where, according to the film, Elizabeth really opens up and becomes a likable, human character. But no such luck. Elizabeth is supposed to be relatable, but it’s hard for anyone to want to see themselves reflected in her at all. Roberts makes Elizabeth a realistic character — but only because she chooses to illuminate her selfish side. Perhaps to tell a story of self-exploration, that is the part that needs to be shown, unlikable as it is.
Her quest for self-awareness concludes with a boring romance with a Brazilian named Felipe (Javier Bardem, “Vicky Christina Barcelona”) and a happy ending. The love story isn’t exactly endearing, but at least it’s refreshing to watch shots of someone else besides Roberts.
But despite valiant attempts by casting directors to fill the screen with big names, “Eat Pray Love” remains a vapid story with pretty scenery and a sickeningly sweet message about loving others and learning to love your self-indulgent self.