Traveling light with Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love”
Nice problem to have. That’s a thought that may pop into your head as you watch the luminous Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert while she scarfs down spaghetti in Naples, Italy. She’s gone Italia because Gilbert, the divorced travel author is trying to “find herself,” and “Eat Pray Love” is the film adaptation of her globetrotting journey of self-discovery.
It is a pretty travelogue no doubt, and Roberts, who is in nearly every scene, has never been better. But those wanting to be satiated may leave the table hungry. The reasons for Gilbert’s difficulty staying in love with her sweet but unspectacular husband (Billy Crudup) are a little fuzzy, as are her motives for dropping a handsome young actor (James Franco).
This makes her adventures in Italy eating pasta and drinking wine with newfound friends and being awed by the postcard beauty more envy-prompting than empathy-inducing. Her time spent in an ashram in India is less glamorous and more about “doing the work” of finding herself, as strongly advised by a fellow troubled American (a terrific Richard Jenkins, whose lines still seem a bit clichéd). She meditates, scrubs floors, and helps a young local girl trapped in a pre-arranged marriage.
That takes care of the “Eat” and “Pray” elements, so obviously Elizabeth is going to find “Love” in her next stop: Bali. When Javier Bardem’s exotically interesting if not entirely charming character nearly runs the bicycling Elizabeth off a jungle road, we know it will eventually be a match-after some difficulty, of course.
There are plenty of audience members, likely upper-class American women, who may relate to Gilbert’s relationship stupor-and can understand the quest at hand-that is, for her to “love herself enough” in order to give back love. Would that each of us had the time, money, and freedom to travel around the world to learn how to love our self. It also helps to have everyone you run into, from tiny, old Italian landladies to toothless gurus to be incredibly wise, offering sage advice any time it is needed.
With only a little over four months left, it is hard to imagine many more Oscar worthy performances than Roberts’, and she has never been more open and relaxed than she is here. And there are enough compelling moments in “Eat Pray Love” to make one want to grab the book and fill in the blanks that the movie’s script seems to have left out.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity.