Don't have a hefty enough bank account to take that year-long trip to Italy, India and Bali? Let Julia Roberts do it for you! The pretty woman is back on top in Eat, Pray, Love, a picturesque journey around the world. Unfortunately, like most star-driven bestseller adaptations, a great deal of the film's emotional core is left on the cutting room floor.
The film version of Elizabeth Gilbert's immensely popular book manages to take a self-absorbed memoir from an emotionally rash author, dress it up real nice, make the main character much more amiable, and yet simultaneously strip the text of most of its underlying resonance.
It's the kind of adaptation that fans of the novel may enjoy simply because it's a transposition of their favorite book, but to the uninitiated, it may seem a little empty. Basically, we're following a woman who rather abruptly (in the film at least) decides to leave her husband and take a trip around the world, presumably to "find" herself. Along the way, she discovers a new appreciation for fine cuisine, learns Italian, meditates with Indians, and ends up falling in "love" with a Brazillian in Bali in a rather cliché ending. Not quite the emotional awakening you'd hoped for?
The premise isn't the problem, and neither is Julia Roberts. The big issue here is that in an effort to make Gilbert more likable, the filmmakers ended up deleting much of what made her interesting. In the book, Gilbert experiences an emotional breakdown, a signal that she's really ready to changer her life, something we never get to see in the movie. Instead, we get Julia Roberts traipsing around the globe in what amounts to little more than a postcard travelogue with a barely believable love story tacked on at the end, because, well, you know Hollywood needs that happy ending.
Roberts does her best, and there's a section of the film in the middle, when she's in India, where we really start to dive into what makes Gilbert tick. Chalk this up to better writing than the beginning and the end, and a little help from Richard Jenkins, playing a fellow American divorcee searching for himself.
However, the glimmer of hope is lost when Gilbert arrives in Bali and eventually collides with a super-suave, exceptionally perfect Javier Bardem. From there on out, it's obvious how it's going to end.
Not all is hopeless, at least there's Robert Richardson's sublimely beautiful photography showcasing all of the film's exotic locales. And those pictures don't fly by in an instant, thanks to some well-handled, un-rushed editing by Bradley Buecker. It's just a shame that the such a pretty film doesn't back up such gorgeous images with real emotional content. But hey, that's Hollywood, right?