By Rick Jackson
Based on the best selling memoir of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert, the film adaptation by screenwriters Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt have turned it into an epic tale of a young girl's search to find herself in the hope of finding a balance of body, mind and spirit. It is a journey that reminded me of such classic films as Roman Holiday (1953) in which Audrey Hepburn plays a princess who wants to see how the common people live and ends up falling in love with journalist Gregory Peck, and Summertime (1955), starring Katherine Hepburn as a woman who is out to find an answer to her loneliness and passion, only to find it in the arms of a married man played by Rossano Brazzi. Another film, The Razor's Edge (1946) based on the Somerset Maugham best seller, staring Tyrone Power as a soldier returning home to Chicago and going on a quest for spiritual peace. However, Gilbert's book is about a woman, not a man.
In Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts plays the real-life author and whose voice-over narration sets the stage for her trip. She first meets Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) who gives her a special gift in remembrance of her visit to India and which plays an important part later in the film. He gives the story a welcome presence of familiarity as if it is all like Shangri-La from James Hilton's novel, Lost Horizon, which was adapted to the screen in 1937 by Frank Capra. There is a sense of magic and mirth as Ketut tells Gilbert how she will spend the rest of her life. It is all comforting to her but there lies an element of mystery and excitement which you will obviously get to see when she leaves for Italy where she connects with their culinary lifestyle. Food becomes a substitute for sex which is the furthest thing from her mind.
While in Italy she meets David (James Franco) and she finds romance, however briefly and unfulfilled. From there Gilbert goes to an ashram in India and, again, meets someone else, a bearded Texan named Richard, played by an unrecognizable Richard Jenkins (The Visitor). He nicknames her "Groceries" and supplies much of the plot's morality and levity. He and Ketut add an undercurrent of humour that enables you to enjoy this trip and, thereby, contributes to your interest as a thought provoking drama.
Subiyanto, whom Gilbert calls her Yoda, adds a lot of fun and you wait to see what he is going to say next.
Elizabeth then goes to Bali and this time around she finds the balance she needs to sustain her life and it comes from yet another man, Felipe (Javier Bardem) who works there. You are moved by his gentle and persuasive demeanor that conveys both honesty and sincerity. His charm, sense of humour and tact when talking to Gilbert makes the entire come alive in the final half-hour because the screenwriters allow them to interact to the point where the film's title begins to make sense after two hours. It also holds your attention as you patiently wait to see where it is all going.
The time-shared innocence and lust develops into something almost magical as Gilbert realizes just what it means to finally feel like a woman. It is, arguably, something she fears the most and, at the right moment and time, she knows just how much Felipe means to her. Her understanding and balance of body, mind and spirit meld together by the way Roberts makes her character smile. This is one of her strongest roles and her performance will leave an indelible mark because she is Julia Roberts. Like both Hepburns, she portrays Gilbert with utter innocence and an adventurous spirit that are in keeping with her real-life counterpart.
The real Elisabeth Gilbert was hospitalized with a heart ailment the day before the film opened nationally on August 13, 2010. The real Kutut became a celebrity in the village of Ubud in 2006 when the book came out, while Bali has become a popular tourist attraction.
Under Murphy's solid direction, Eat Pray Love is well paced and you are guaranteed a good time. I was very impressed.
It is rated PG, with the warnings: mature theme and language may offend.
August 15, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010