Location, location, location is everything in real estate decisions but also includes huge, highly anticipated summer films that straddle the cusp of fall. You gotta have a gimmick, and a sumptuous Bali location certainly qualifies. You can almost smell sequel to Eat Pray Love in the mounds of spaghetti sauce served on the silver screen. I found the calendar location of Eat Pray Love also interesting in that it’s not a spring fling AKA Oscar-hopeful killer; not an early but ugly summer offering, instead a stylish butter-laden film floating like ghee into theaters as a summer smorgasbord of shameless play-on-heartstrings. What did you expect?
Elizabeth Gilbert, whose book is the basis for the screenplay, did not see Julia Roberts coming to fill the sandals of Liz, and ride the bike in Bali. But there she is along with Viola Davis (Delia Shiraz), Richard Jenkins (Richard from Texas—I think he portrays himself), Billy Crudup (Steven Gilbert), James Franco (David Picollo), Javier Bardem (Felipe the Brazilian), and Balinese medicine man Nyomo (I. Gusti Ayu Puspawati) toothless yet brilliant.
This drama opens with writer Liz Gilbert in Bali, where she bids adieu to her spiritual mentor Nyomo. I can’t call him her guru because he purposely leaves her in the dark and gifts her with a cryptic graphic that she keeps. She returns to New York City, her husband Steven, and her best friend Delia (the talented Davis). Delia listens while Gilbert talks out loud about the need “to marvel at something.” Gilbert lacks credibility, and who wouldn’t. How can you sell annual “marvel” which can happen only while learning Italian in Italy, visiting an ashram in India, and rounding it off with a repeat trip to Bali? Delia is not buying it but sits and listens.
How does one prepare for such armchair adventure on a really hot Texas afternoon? Women filled every seat in the first matinee, which bodes well for the feminine fixation with Eat Pray Love. I wore my Bali best and took notes. My take: Eat Italy, Pray India, and Love Bali make up the bones of this film. And a pleasing score including Mozart in the mix supplement the missing link —connection of Liz with the men of this film and the audience.
New York, Rome, Naples, India, and Bali (first film shot there) locales are not the only good things about Eat Pray Love; they are actually the best things about it. However, a solid cast buoys an out-of-her element Julia Roberts. Honestly, she needs a lot of help in the connect-to-the-audience department. I expected that, but it was not a given if you’ve marveled over her Anna of Notting Hill. As expected, she smiles too often and must stifle the big laugh — it happens anyway.
Gilbert’s goal in Italy is to speak beautiful Italian while walking the road to ruins. She grapples with the meaning of life in a word. In India its all about seva (service to others) and sin–pride. I know that ashram life in India where Gilbert works out her spiritual fantasy, it’s full of people who are strangers for mere seconds before the karmic sparks fly.
The final word in this trilogy of “truth”: love. Gilbert is off to beautiful Bali but absolutely not to find love. She seeks “balance” not “balls” but in real life Felipe, fame and fortune find her. And the skeptic may wonder is that what she was really after?
I have to admit when I first heard that Javier was to play Felipe I couldn’t see it. But he is full of warm believable embraces, and Javier knows how to connect with the audience even in a small role that closes out the film. In fact he steals the show. Liz melts in their embrace with the scent of sequel overpowering the end. That’s shameless enough because we know that Elizabeth Gilbert has penned and sold the sequel as the now-married skeptic! We know that she and Felipe did cross over to the land of matrimony. That may be a good thing because actually I wanted more Bali, more Bardem, and more naked butts. I can recommend this film with a straight face; I liked it as much as the book, but you’ve been warned it’s a solid chick flick and women will eat it up.
Finally, kudos to director Ryan Murphy (Glee), he co-wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Scott. They remained true to the spirit of the memoir. It helps when the source material is rich and the heroine richer. The screenplay sprinkles Gilbert’s story with sex, ties, and heaps of gourmet food served with genuine emotion.