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HOW DO YOU SPELL ‘BOMB’?
The answer to the question in the headline is “E-A-T-P-R-A-Y-L-O-V-E.” Brad Pitt gets executive producer credit for this latest Julia Roberts vehicle (she is in almost every frame). He had better go back to acting in comedies. If he keeps backing pictures like this one, helmed by Ryan Murphy, who shares screenwriter credit with Jennifer Salt, people will begin to think that his name refers to a coal mine in Wales. While billed as a drama, “Eat Pray Love,” an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s eponymous book, is actually either a comedy that falls flat or a drama striving desperately for comic relief. It works best as a travelogue, but more on that later.
Pic’s problems are many and obvious:
It runs 133 minutes. After an hour restless leg syndrome erupts. Ten minutes later your critic was squirming in his seat. Ten minutes after that his companion asked if we had to stay until the end. We did. In case your critic did not make it clear, watching this picture is torture.
It develops no dramatic tension whatever. Julia Roberts is travel writer Liz Gilbert. She is married to Stephen, a ne’er-do-well who is still trying to “find” himself. She has tired of the search. They divorce (opening one of pic’s feeble attempts at comedy), and she falls for actor David Piccolo (James Franco) soon to become disenchanted with him. Thus far, none of the couples has any on-screen chemistry. Contrived emotional outbursts, such as they are, exist only to simulate tension.
There is no reason for auds to warm up to any of the central characters. Supporting players steal the show. Notable among them areHadi Subiyanto as a Balinese medicine man; Tuva Novotny as Sofi, a Swede Liz meets in Rome, Luca Argentero as Giovanni, her Italian language coach and Sofi’s boyfriend; and Giuseppe Gandini as Luca Spaghetti (don’t ask) a fellow who joins Liz’s Roman circle. Giovanni and Sofi are pic’s only couple who even slightly spark on screen.
Viola Davis as Delia Shiraz, Liz’s literary agent, is totally wasted. If anyone remembers the job she did in “Doubt,” they should consider throwing tomatoes at the screenwriters.
After her divorce and her breakup from David, Liz leaves on a year long trip around the world to “find” herself. Plot is threaded by Roberts’ voice-over narration. It helps. Otherwise auds would be scratching their heads. First stop is Rome. Here is where pic shines, if one can call it that. (It’s a relative thing.) Kudos to cinematographer Robert Richardson, who really frames the essence of the eternal city. Production design, set decoration, and art direction soar far above the material. As for sound recording, a few more subtitles would have helped. Part of pic is in Italian and largely accurately subtitled. However, the heavily accented speakers of English could use subtitles for American auds. Tech credits are consistent throughout.
Liz then visits India to work with a guru who happens to be in New York at the time, and next Bali to consult with the kindly medicine man. In case we didn’t know, Liz is reminded constantly that she needs a man. It’s a running joke whose punch line is a bladder infection.
Richard Jenkins, who initially appears as a promising candidate to refill Liz’s bed, is wasted as Richard from Texas, a role in which he is one of pic’s two men to weep. His performance soars way above pic’s one dimensional material. Javier Bardem as Brazilian expat Felipe (transplanted to Australiaand then to Bali following a divorce)starts a romance with Liz after almost killing her in a traffic mishap. (He was changing tapes in his car radio.) Then we get the classic “boy meets girl; boy loses girl….” You know the rest. At least the Bardem scenes benefit from some excellent Brazilian jazz, mostly voiced by Joao Gilberto. Bardem is pic’s second male weeper. Attempts at comedy are so feeble that pic even recycles the old lottery joke… Poor man prays over and over to God to win the lottery. Finally God says, “First you have to buy a ticket.” One does not even need radar to see that one coming.
It is tough to say whether just about every principal player in this frittata is miscast or that none of them (save Jenkins) rises above the banal material. Anyone who has followed Roberts’ career knows that she can own a screen, even in a supporting role. Just rent Ocean’s Twelve,Valentine’s Day or Charlie Wilson’s War. Her recent starring roles includeDuplicity in which she shined opposite Clive Owen. What possessed her to accept the role of Liz Gilbert is a mystery — unless reports of a $10 million salary are accurate.
Helmer Paul Mazursky dealt with this subject matter far better in the 1978 release, “An Unmarried Woman,” starring Jill Clayburgh. Mazursky also claimed writer and producer credit.
A generation from now film students will argue whether “Eat Pray Love” is a chick flick, a travelogue, a comedy, or a weeper. It tries to be all things to all people and ends up succeeding at none — except briefly as travelogue.
Pic carries a PG-13 rating thanks to the naked tush of a buff, blond, young Australian actor. Kids have nothing to fear except boredom.
If, as it is billed, “Eat Pray Love” is a faithful adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, she needs to get a life.