x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Eat Pray Love: Julia Roberts, style over substance

As pleasing to the eye as it all looks, it's not enough to make you want to spend close to two-and-a-half hours in the company of its lead.

Eat Pray Love

Director: Ryan Murphy 

Starring: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins 


As the title suggests, the emotional and spiritual sustenance behind Julia Roberts' latest vehicle can be reduced to the simplest of ingredients. All of which makes Eat Pray Love about as exciting as a portion of boil-in-the-bag rice. 

Adapted from Elizabeth Gilbert's hugely successful memoir from 2006, this bloated travelogue that sees Roberts globe-trot her way to self-absorbed self-discovery is destined to have just one group of hardened admirers: travel agents. 

Shorn of the icy wit she displayed in the recent outings Duplicity and Closer, Roberts plays the author Liz Gilbert, a New York-based writer who begins the film locked into a meandering marriage with a nice-but-basically-lost husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup). Divorce is as inevitable as the rebound fling she has with a handsome younger actor (James Franco), but neither leaves her satisfied. And so she decides to go and discover the world and herself, in what sounds like a package holiday planned by a psychoanalyst.

Taking in Italy, India and Indonesia, where she will eat, pray and then love, the first stop is Rome, as Liz indulges in the country's culinary delights, where her biggest life lesson seems to be not worrying about going up a dress size. Heading to the subcontinent, she enrols in an ashram for a spot of New Age navel-gazing in a half-hearted attempt to clear her mind. Needless to say with the constant stream of interior babble - which doubles as voiceover - going on in her head, this is no easy task.

Inevitably, it's these scenes that irritate the most, as Liz plays out her first-world minidramas to a backdrop of third-world poverty. Thankfully, The Visitor's Richard Jenkins restores some equilibrium with the film's best turn, as a wry Texan she encounters at the ashram. From here, it's on to Bali, where she meets and eventually falls for the Brazilian divorcé Felipe (Bardem, a good decade younger than the 52-year-old character in the book) in a romance that seems straight out of a Mills and Boon novel.

If Eat Pray Love confirms anything, it's that the writer-director Ryan Murphy, best known for his hit TV shows Nip/Tuck and Glee, does not yet have the golden touch when it comes to film. Like his first movie, the 2006 adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' memoir Running With Scissors, this is a middle-of-the-road misfire that waters down the source prose into bland dialogue and chat-show sentiment. Like Roberts' two-dimensional performance, which veers between wide smiles and torrents of tears, it's all style and no substance.

Visually the film does have some moments. Murphy is ably aided by the veteran cinematographer Robert Richardson, who particularly captures Liz's chaotic arrival in India with a deft flair. But as pleasing to the eye as it all looks, it's not enough to make you want to spend close to two-and-a-half hours in the company of its lead. At best, it's going to be leaving you dreaming about booking your next holiday.