The story kicks off with writer Liz Gilbert (Roberts) ditching her husband seemingly on the basis of one conversation in her car in which he outlined his career aspirations to her. It probably made more sense in the novel, but on the screen it appears nonsensical and instantly distances us from the character. Consequently, watching her roam around Italy on holiday eating pasta, staring at architecture and ordering cappuccino in a café is far from ideal - especially as all of these laborious sequences take aeons to unfold and are accompanied by a narration that is cloying in tone.
Eventually, amid various flashbacks of her husband and musings about her toyboy lover, Liz finds spiritual redemption in India – as does Eat Pray Love. For in the most powerful segment of the movie, Liz meets ‘Richard from Texas’ (Jenkins), a mysterious American man who mocks her arrival at the ashram and devotes his life to meditation. The circumstances that led to his curious predicament are later revealed in one outstanding monologue delivered by Jenkins, who is utterly mesmerising. It's a huge shame the movie didn't focus more on his character.
Liz then ends up in Bali, where she began her post-divorce trek and falls for the charms of Javier Bardem's divorcee. The pair do have a reasonable amount of spark together, and director Ryan Murphy showcases the island's beauty well without ever relegating the actors to second fiddle. Yet there's no desire for us to crave a happy ending for Liz, although later events do slightly lessen any antagonism towards her that was built up by the mechanics of the screenplay.
Julia Roberts still possesses the luminous star quality in the lead role, but the script relegates her character to an unsympathetic and selfish entity with poorly explained motivations for her actions. That's not ideal given that she is ever-present throughout the 133 minutes, akin to sitting next to some boring duffer on a flight who won't stop rambling on – compelling you to eye up the emergency exit doors and weigh up a tussle with gravity at 30,000 feet.
If you are trapped in a cinema with this movie, here is a safety briefing. Eat lots of popcorn to distract you, pray for it to end, and love Richard Jenkins. Amen.
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