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Julia Roberts is one of Hollywood’s most gifted actresses, as she can play just about any role with ease. Well, how about playing a writer who is solving her midlife crisis in an unorthodox way? Consider it done, as she leads the melodramatic film Eat Pray Love, based on the memoir of the same name.
Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert, a writer in New York who has fallen out of love with her husband (Billy Crudup). After divorcing him and falling into yet another relationship, she decides to take a year-long break from her everyday routine to visit Italy, India, and Bali. Along the way to self discovery, she meets people that she will never forget.
This was pretty evident from the trailer, but Roberts lights up the screen in the role of Gilbert, turning every potentially annoying and irritating line (unfortunately too many exist here) into something for the audience to enjoy. There isn’t a single false note in her performance. The laughter, the tears, the holding back of emotion, everything is absolutely wonderful.
The other performances aren’t bad either. Viola Davis is great as Roberts’ close friend, Richard Jenkins steals his scenes as “Richard from Texas,” and James Franco and Javier Bardem all work fine as Roberts’ love interests (even though Bardem is slightly better in his more complex role).
The film has some strong moments of humor and dramatic resolve, but “EPL” isn’t a great film by any means. It’s hard to tell what is to blame for this film’s failure to make you fall in love with it. It certainly isn’t Roberts or the ensemble cast. Instead of capturing the true essence of Gilbert’s memoir this adaptation opts to take a fairly one-dimensional look at this woman’s journey. We hardly know anything about Gilbert except for what is told to us through narration. Gone is the humorous yet gripping writing of Gilbert’s memoir. Whatever happened in the adaptation from book to screen, it’s hard to tell; perhaps memoir simply can’t translate well from one to the other.
“EPL” is a unique film experience. But while it can be fun (and had the potential to be even more fun), much of the film is bogged down by a slow pace. Sure it’s vicarious fun to watch Roberts sightsee, eat pizza, throw her hands in the air like an Italian and other such things, but the film really suffers from a lack of conflict, or at least a conflict that is consistently present. Gilbert’s search for self-discovery is obvious at the beginning, sparsely placed throughout the rest of the film, then resolves in the last ten minutes or so.
As much as I hate to say it, “EPL” doesn’t live up to expectations.
Eat Pray Love
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt (screenplay); Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir)
Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Viola Davis, Richard Jenkins