Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Eat Pray Love ***
Director: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Julia Roberts
Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis
Billy Crudup, Hadi Subiyanto, Tuva Novotny, Mike O'Malley
Luca Argentero, Rushita Singh, David Lyons
How do you sell a movie about a woman who leaves her husband to find herself, while traveling to some of the most exotic locales on the planet? You get Julia Roberts to play her.
It makes no difference that Eat Pray Love is based on the autobiographical novel written by Elizabeth Gilbert, the truth is that perhaps there would've been no way to bring this movie to the screen without making it feel like a "whine fest" if it wasn't because Roberts turns it into a Julia Roberts movie.
Not to pay any disservice to Gilbert, since apparently those who love her book think it gets to be spiritual and transcendental, but the thing is that watching Julia on a movie screen immediately takes you to a place where movie stars still are gods of sorts and mortals can still drool over them.
This helps the movie because it helps make Gilbert approachable, given that we rarely think of her as an actual "normal" person, she's pretty much Julia Roberts' version of Gilbert.
This makes it easy to like Julia because it wouldn't really be easy to like Liz.
When the film begins she decides to leave her husband (Crudup) after figuring out she doesn't love him. She begins an affair with a young actor (Franco) who she doesn't love either and then decides it's time to travel the world and find her balance.
She begins her journey in Italy where she eats, then goes to India where she prays and culminates it in Bali where she loves (Bardem plays Felipe her Brazilian love interest).
Director Murphy (who also wrote the screenplay with Alice Salt) seems to have no real intention to make anything in the movie subtle.
Besides the obvious explanation of the title, he spends trying to digest everything for the audience. Along with director of photography Robert Richardson he tries to make everything seem like what we'd expect it to be.
Therefore the entire movie is bathed in a golden light that makes everything seem nice but doesn't really allow elements to breathe. Richardson who is an extraordinary DP, here seems restricted by the homogeneous look Murphy tries to impose on everything.
The same can be said about the editing, which more often than not seems overcompensating. The scenes where Liz eats are usually cut with such quickness that they make her bites seem car commercials, it's as if Murphy is too worried we would get too envious about the foods and chose not to show them too much and there's a particularly obnoxious scene where a woman's fashion success is celebrated by an entire crowd of football fans.
It's fortunate then that while Murphy digests for us, Julia gets to do the actual savoring. Her performance might not be a reinvention of modern acting but the actress shows glimpses of a maturity that she has experimented with very few times in her career.
Not only does she look more radiant and beautiful than ever but she also manages to infuse Liz with a certain sense of earthiness despite the whole "she's Julia" issue.
Even when the movie succumbs to cliché Julia takes it to a completely different place. For example it doesn't take long to assume Gilbert was a fan of Sex and the City given the way she narrates and tries too hard to deliver Carrie Bradshaw-isms, but Roberts takes these comments with a pinch of salt and instead of turning them into puns or teabag advice she confronts them and even make us wonder if Gilbert wasn't actually consciously creating a marketable product while trying to be spiritual (think Paulo Coelho minus the ominous hocus pocus).
After all this is a woman who literally had to begin from zero after an ugly divorce. It would make sense, and give her some humanity, to think that she was finding ways to make money after her trip was over.
Eat Pray Love rarely gives us a glimpse of the Julia Roberts laughter, you know that big, loud roar that's impossible to ignore, instead we get more of her soulful smile this time around.
Perhaps the screenplay doesn't really try hard to see what's behind Liz, her motivations rarely move past the "find myself" stereotype but Julia detected this and tries to explore it without acquiring methodical tics.
Instead of approaching Liz like a vessel waiting to be invaded, Roberts gets near her and tries to empathize, which is why it's evident that nobody else would've been able to play this woman and not make her seem selfish and to an extent an anti-heroine.
Because for all its soul searching and mumbo jumbo, Eat Pray Love is still very much about an American woman using the world to expiate her sins but without the selfawareness to make it a satire.
Because it has Roberts though it gains a heart, one that is broken on several occassions (mostly by herself) and because of this we leave the movie, not feeling patronized or offended but actually questioning what we just saw.
If people like Gilbert get to travel the world and still come up empty handed, what hope is there for the people who only get to travel from movie to movie looking for answers to their existential questions.
Murphy doesn't seem to know that his glossy travelogue might seem shallow but Julia does and with a comforting smile lets us know that however deep we sink in our own tragedies, almost everyone knows that a spoonful of gelato makes the world seem perfect even for at least a second.