I first read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert during my own four-month stint in India. I was riveted by the story she told, but for some reason, some sections felt self-indulgent and disingenuous — I’m not sure why. This was not the case when I watched the film on Tuesday.
Like the book, Gilbert takes a tri-country trip to find herself, first to Italy, where she abstains from sex, while consuming an orgy of pasta and wine. Next, she prays in India at an ashram where she learns to clear her mind and guilty conscience about her life choices. Finally, in Bali, she learns to love, not just friends and family, but herself.
Before seeing the movie I was quite skeptical. I feared that the worst parts of the book would be the basis for the film, or, the director would turn Gilbert’s story into a romantic-comedy schmultz-fest. Thankfully, neither occurred. The pacing of the film, along with the casting, were fantastic. Each actor seemed perfect in his or her role.
I rarely see such raw emotional performances in mass market films. Billy Crudup as Stephen, trying to convince Gilbert that “she is his dream,” while she is trying to divorce him, was devastating. Yet, I thought James Franco as David, was a perfect foil to Stephen and his mundane relationship with Gilbert. Franco has the charm, passion and immaturity you can see was impossible for her to avoid, but there was something incomplete about him as well. And, from Julia Roberts’ performance, you knew something was incomplete about her too.
When she meets Richard Jenkins’ character, Richard from Texas, Gilbert is really struggling with finding god. But there’s a special relationship of support between the two characters that I found so evocative. Jenkins is very talented, evidenced by his dynamic dialogue with Roberts at a table outside and when he reveals why he’s at the ashram on the roof. His pain and past torture him — you can almost feel it in your gut.
Javier Bardem as Felipe is as magic as the cinematography in Bali. His lust for Roberts onscreen oozes from the screen like one of Wayan’s health concoctions, making the audience feel good and right with the notion of love. I was particularly touched by the scene with his son when Philipe cries when saying good bye and Gilbert gets choked up too. To have that ability to love, so completely — Gilbert didn’t stand a chance.
Most notable about the film, and I don’t mean any disrespect to Gilbert as the author, was the genuineness of the journey portrayed by Julia Roberts. I’m not a Gilbert hater, nor am a jealous of her trip and success like some, but at times, in the book, she came across as selfish. Roberts’ acting seemed to combat that feeling I had from the book. I felt compassion and sympathy for her in the film, like so many others experiences when reading Eat, Pray, Love.
I know that sounds totally backwards to think Julia Roberts’ acting was more authentic than reading Gilbert’s words, but there was something amazing about her performance — an honesty that made me want her to overcome those emotional demons and find the inner peace she desperately wanted.
And, who could deny the emotional performances of those four men? I feel like this strong supporting cast really enriched the story and made for a better film. It was great to see actors who could hold their own with Roberts and to finally get the Eat, Pray, Love moment millions felt when they read the book a few years ago.
All in all, a great night at the movies.