I was absolutely shocked at how much I really enjoyed and related to this film. If you had told me a month ago that I was going to end up liking "Eat, Pray, Love," the new film starring Julia Roberts ... based on the best-selling book and directed by the creator of "Glee," I would have told you that you were crazy. IT'S A CHICK-FLICK, RIGHT? WRONG! It's a human-flick, meaning anyone with a heartbeat can relate to the universal themes that director Ryan Murphy explores in the film. Granted everyone's mother, sister or wife has read the book that the film is based on and recommended it to their male relative but if you are like me, you just shrugged your shoulders and said, "That's nice, maybe I'll try reading it," with no intentions of ever picking up the book. What's great about the movie is that you get the chance to follow the inspiring and redeeming qualities of the story without feeling forced to take one character's side over the other, the way you would if you were reading the book and had the author in your head telling you the story.
From what I understand about the book, (and of course I didn't read it) is that you are really following and rooting for the Liz character, who is the actual author of the book as the novel is based on her true-story. But the book only allows you to see the story unfold from her point of view and in doing that many of the male characters in her life are either demonized or marginalized and that would not work cinematically. If the filmmakers had made the film more faithful to the book they would have alienated half of their audience ... men. Wisely, director Ryan Murphy decided to fill out the male characters more in order to have a fuller experience for the audience and it works. Billy Crudup's performance as Steven, the husband that Liz eventually leaves, is a perfect example of this. The character could easily be made into the bad guy of the film but instead Crudup humanizes the role showing us a scared and fragile man that was once the great love of her life and has unfortunately grown out of that role. Javier Bardem is great as the man Liz falls for in Bali and the relationship between he and his son is another example of something that men will be able to relate to with this film. But it is character actor Richard Jenkins performance that is going to have people talking and crying over this film. He plays a mentor to Liz that she meets in India and he has a scene that is so good, he deserves an Oscar nomination for just that. It truly is what great acting is all about.
The film begins by introducing us to Liz (the infectious Julia Roberts) an American reporter doing a story in Bali. She meets an old wise man who predicts that she will have two marriages in her life, one long and one short, that she will loose all her money within the next year and that she will one day return to live in Bali and teach him English. At first Liz doesn't pay much attention to his prediction but eventually begins to wonder if she is currently in the long or the short marriage? Growing weary of her life with Steven, her goofy but likable slacker husband (the excellent Billy Crudup) Liz decides to file for divorce. Steven is not too pleased about this but after a minor breakdown gives her what she wants. She soon falls back in a serious relationship with David, a young struggling actor played by James Franco. David introduces Liz to his spiritual guru, an Indian woman that he studies the work of but has never met.
Liz eventually grows tired of her life with David and fears that she is not ready for another relationship so soon and needs to find herself before she can commit again. She decides to move to Italy, live there for several months and eat as much food as she wants. She then plans to move to India, study with the guru and then finish the year living in Bali and making the wise man's prediction come true. Along the way, Liz finds herself and is reinvigorated about life. She makes several friends that influence her including Richard from Texas (the absolutely amazing Richard Jenkins) her mentor in India and Wayan (Christine Hakim) a friend she makes in Bali. But it is when she meets Felipe (the magical Javier Bardem} that she realizes her life has come full-circle and that she has found the love that she has been looking for.
As much as I enjoyed this film, I did have two major problems with it. First, this is a journey movie. We all know what it is. We are waiting for the main character to go on this journey of self-discovery so what is annoying is that it takes a good thirty to forty minutes for her to get going on her journey. I understand having a little set-up but it seems like we spend a long time in New York (at least the first two reels) and you get a little tired waiting for her journey to begin. Secondly, there is really no purpose to James Franco being in the film. Don't get me wrong, he is a fine actor and is decent in his role but other than being a rebound relationship for Liz and introducing her to the Indian guru, David fills no real purpose. I understand that it is based on a true-story and that in real life that happens. People jump into one relationship after another because it is comfortable and I guess that is what Liz eventually learns I just thought cinematically, for an audience to follow, it would make more sense for her to be trying to get over one lost love instead of two. But it kind of works in the end as Liz realizes that David was just a distraction and that she is still mourning the loss of her marriage. But there was an overwhelming theme in the film that really resonated with me and I really liked, which was forgiveness. The idea of forgiving yourself for a relationship that didn't work out is a powerful idea and one that works well in this film.
I have to mention the most amazing scene in the film and the one that people will be talking about for a while. It takes place in India and it is when Richard Jenkins' character finally comes clean to Liz about his past. It takes place on a rooftop and Jenkins gives one of the best monologue performances that I have ever seen. What Murphy does as a director is not only bold but daring, which is he allows the entire four to five minute scene all take place in one unedited shot over Julia's shoulder. It is so powerful to just leave the camera on this man as he is having an emotional breakdown. Too often now in film we are used to quick cuts and it deludes the power of the actor's emotion and Murphy deserves a lot credit for letting the actor's emotion tell the true story in that scene. Overall the director does a great job of making this story come to life on screen.
All the acting in this film is excellent and you truly fall in love with many of the characters in the movie. But at the end of the day this is a Julia Roberts movie and in watching it you start to realize why she is the most popular screen actress of all-time. She is just so damn likable and believable in her role that you can't help but want to follow her on her journey of discovery and in doing so you begin to discover something about yourself. Roberts has been a star since she was eighteen so we all grew up with her, we trust her and that goes a long way to making this film work. In the end, Eat, Pray, Love is clearly marketed to women but I think men will be really surprised at how much they enjoy and relate to the film and its universal issues and themes.