2010 – 140mn - PG

2010 – 140mn - PG

Directed by Ryan Murphy. Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, James Franco.

ELIZABETH Gilbert’s non-fiction book Eat Pray Love has been at the top of the best-seller lists since it was first published in 2006. The well-reviewed memoir told the story of how Gilbert, a travel writer recovering from a failed marriage, went on a year-long trip around the world, spending time in Italy (eating), India (praying), and Bali (loving again). Gilbert’s exploration of the confusion and struggles in her life, combined with her witty and colloquial writing style, spoke to women around the world; and the book has become famous as one of those empowering tomes passed from girlfriend to girlfriend and sister to sister.

The film version, unfortunately, rather simplifies things. The movie’s Elizabeth (Julia Roberts) is a gorgeous, posh, acclaimed writer married to a handsome, loving, exuberant husband (Billy Crudup). One night she realizes that she doesn’t really want her comfortable life – she doesn’t want to be married, she doesn’t want to be acclaimed. She needs more. Even though she’s travel writer who’s been everywhere, she keeps moaning about the handful of places she apparently hasn’t been yet. So she leaves her husband, puts him through a gut-wrenching divorce, and pops out on an expensive holiday. First she goes to Rome, where she flirts with beautiful Italian men and eats so much ice cream and pizza she can’t zip up her jeans anymore. Then she goes to India, where she stays in a New Age ashram recommended by her post-divorce fling, a struggling New York actor. There she meets a young Indian girl devastated at the prospect of being married off to a stranger, as well as a middle-aged Texan (Richard Jenkins) coping with how he nearly killed his son. Somehow she manages to make both their trials all about her. Then she’s off to Bali, where she cycles around in the sun and meets Javier Bardem. He’s divorced as well, he’s sweet, and he struggles with the same issues. They have lots of sex but Elizabeth/Julia isn’t sure she’s ready to love again. She dithers for a while and eventually realizes that yes, she’s fine being loved by Javier Bardem, thank you very much.

At this week’s London premiere, Julia Roberts compared the film to “a remarkable home video”. The problem is it shows. Elizabeth Gilbert’s real-life experience was a mid-life crisis, a collapse of faith. In the movie, it’s an overgrown American college girl’s gap year. It’s beautifully shot, completely vacuous, and absolutely nothing – nothing – of any interest happens.

What we do get is a string of shocking clich�s – the Italians love food, live in quaint little apartments with no hot water, and drive little mid-century cars; the Indians have pre-arranged weddings and their food gives you diarrhea; and the Balinese are mystical peasants with no teeth. It’s a film about travel, travel writing, and exploring the world – made by people who, seemingly, have never been outside the US in half-a-century. Imagine how outraged Americans would be if foreign filmmakers made a film about contemporary America in which everyone wore cowboy hats, ate at diners, and went to the drive-in. That’s how clueless Eat Pray Love is about other countries.

To make matters worse, none of the characters have any attractive qualities whatsoever, least of all Roberts’s Gilbert. Bizarrely it’s as if the filmmakers are aware of this, but can’t be bothered to do anything about it – every few minutes, like clockwork, they throw her famous mega-watt smile and booming laugh at us, as if this will just automatically make us like her. The technique is so over-used it feels smug and condescending.

Clocking in at a bum-numbing 140 minutes, Eat Pray Love plays like a self-indulgent neighbour’s expensive holiday video. You’re watching them have lots of fun, but there’s none in store for you.

Star rating: 1 out of 5 stars