He Said/She Said Reviews of Eat Pray Love

Who needs love when you've got food to bring two critics together?

Full Disclosure: I have never read Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I had the desire to read Eat, Pray, Love. I really can’t explain why. Perhaps it’s because I felt it’s the epitome of the old Oprah She’s Come Undone Book Club. (You know the ones. Where every book is about a young woman struggling against adversity and discovering her sexuality — like older versions of Judy Blume novels. Are you there God? It’s me, The White Oleander Pilot’s Wife.)

And yet, I still looked forward to seeing the movie adaptation. Obviously, this had nothing to do with its source; it had all to do with its cast. Specifically, Julia Roberts. (Full Disclosure #2: I, rightly or wrongly, am a Roberts fan.)

For the 11 of you that haven’t read the book, the movie Eat Pray Love is about one woman’s search for personal happiness, love and acceptance. She, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts), divorces her husband (Billy Crudup), leaves the man (James Franco) she dates after the divorce, and flees the country. For a year she lives in Italy (Eat), then India (Pray), and then Bali (Love), looking for answers.

Along the way she meets a multinational, multicultural supporting cast of characters. And lots and lots of attractive men. In this world, the despondent Liz Gilbert is surrounded and adored by a smorgasbord of men. An international hot-man buffet. One actor exists in the movie (during Love) simply to bare his ass. On a moonlit beach.

Some sections of the movie do go on a bit too long (Pray), and others are over too quickly (Eat). But the director, Ryan Murphy (the creator of Glee and Nip/Tuck) keeps the story and the cast focused. Julia has her buoyant moments of being the smiley, laughy Julia. But overall, her’s is a much more restrained and distant performance. Richard Jenkins is superb. Javier Bardem is manly. Billy Crudup steals every one of his scenes. And James Franco is squinty.

My only true problem with the movie is the script. Though Liz calls someone out for speaking in bumper stickers, bumper-sticker lines fill the script. Like “the only thing more impossible than leaving, is staying.” Or, “ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” These clunky new-agey slogans simply stick out and break the narrative flow. Additionally, they provide fodder for critics — those who simply cannot see how a successful, attractive woman could be unhappy with her situation. When speaking in aphorisms, it makes the personal journey of self-discovery and self-exploration, which in itself is an ego-centric endeavor, to seem even more prideful and pretentious.

While Eat Pray Love may not be everyone’s Three Cups of Tea (ba-dum bum), it definitely succeeds as a movie. It’s charming, honest, and has great performances and gorgeous settings. It also makes me want to read the book. Which for me, is proof of its success.

(Sorry about the Three Cups of Tea joke.)

Eat, Pray or Love? Hands down, Eat. I mean, come on, it’s about eating. Pasta. In Italy.
Best scene: Any scene involving Billy Crudup.
Best line: “All you American girls … want pasta and sausage.”
Should you take your boyfriend? I’m on the fence here. Despite the performances, it does spend a lot of time being a “feelings” movie.

My Grade: B

First, there’s this: There is not a man in this movie whom you do not love at least a little. A sincere, suffering husband (played by hot Billy Crudup). An immature but intriguing boyfriend (played by hot James Franco). And the soulful leading man (played by hot, hot Javier Bardem). The movie is more than this — there are great performances, and absolutely beautiful cinematography. But in a film that could have just been about Julia Roberts and her laugh, the men offer some of the best moments. Julia does well, of course, but she’s even more fun to watch because of the cast around her, who seem barely to be acting.

I am not one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love devotees who had expectations about what this movie needed to be, so I was as open to the idea that it might be a cloying chic flick as I was to the idea that it would be a story worthy of all the hype. That it fell a lot closer to the latter than the former was a happy discovery. It’s an old, familiar plot — one must lose oneself to find oneself — but told believably, and prettily, with such attention to sensual details (Margherita pizza you can almost taste! The exquisite colors of Indian saris!) that it’s a pleasure just to take it all in. To be honest, the India part actually lags a bit, and comes off as somehow less momentous and meaningful than it was probably supposed to — odd, as it’s the “praying” part, the spiritual awakening — but the eating and the loving make up for it. During these scenes, you almost feel guilty sitting in a movie theater watching Italians feast and the Balinese medicine man imparting wisdom; you should be out, feasting, getting wiser, too. (Though if you were, you would miss a very sweet Bardem, who makes the real-life love story actually feel real. He cried; I cried.)

There is, I think, one very important test of a good movie: If one leaves feeling enlightened, or scared, or sad, or in any noticeable way altered in mood from the way one entered the movie, then the film — on some level — did its job. With EPL, there’s a touch of cliché; there are a few silly Hollywood-script moments; and it’s a tad long. But in the end, I still left feeling happy — and if that’s not worth my $10, I don’t know what is. A plate of that pasta Julia slurped down in the film, maybe. — Christine Speer

My Grade: B

Eat, Pray or Love? Eat. I love love, but the food scenes are masterpieces. You’ll hear the mmmmms throughout the theater.
Best scene: Javier Bardem, playing Felipe, saying good-bye to his visiting son—one of the better—wordless—portrayals of love you could find in a movie.
Best line: Julia/Liz writes to her ex-boyfriend: “Ruin is the road to transformation.”
Should you take your boyfriend? If he made it though Pretty Woman or Erin Brokovich, he’ll make it through this.