While the film has its moments of charm and genuine emotion, for the most part Eat Pray Love is a dull foray into one woman's quest for self-discovery. And along the way, she manages to play into every cultural cliché, hunker down into her self-centered universe, and submit to the Westernized fantasy of an exotic pilgrimage to enlightenment.
We begin with Liz (Julia Roberts) cutting ties to an unsatisfying marriage, taking up with a younger man (James Franco), and eventually leaving him when things start to fall apart. This isn't really a problem. A woman making choices based on her own desires and not those of her significant other? Sounds good to me. But then the rest of Eat Pray Love happens.
Liz goes to Italy, where we spend a good half-hour watching food porn: pasta, prosciutto, cheeses, figs, more pasta. Turns out, Italians love pasta. They also love sex and talking with their hands. So begins Liz's immersion in the most clichéd aspects of a foreign city. She and her group of insta-friends also decide that every city can be summed up in a word — a too-perfect reminder of this oversimplified plot — and determine that Liz is "a woman in search of her word." In the process, Liz bravely tackles gender schema and decides, in a particularly radical move, to release herself from body-image shackles. "I'm through with the guilt," says an ever-svelte Roberts.
Liz then follows this whirlwind of discovery to India, where she seeks the wisdom and guidance of a guru. She meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), who is only one of many characters poised to offer her life lessons and dedicate themselves to her quest. With Richard's help, Liz spends time forgiving herself (for what, I'm not sure) and learning to clear her mind, which is apparently, like, really hard.
In the final segment of this saga, Liz travels to Bali, which is so beautiful that it (coupled with Javier Bardem) almost redeems the previous hour and a half of the movie. But Liz both fetishizes and makes the experience ordinary. She visits a wizened medicine man, Ketut, and, in one particularly irksome move, takes a stack of centuries-old spells to be photocopied and bound, although Ketut asked her to copy them by hand. So much for patience and dedication.
The love story between Liz and Felipe (Bardem) is sweet, but it develops quickly and seems a bit shallow. Even when Liz realizes she's losing the "self" she's worked so hard for, Ketut teaches her that sometimes you have to lose balance in love to live a balanced life. A most convenient loophole.
Julia Roberts is winning as always and is supported by a quality cast. Bali is stunning to look at. The shots of olive oil drizzled on fresh asparagus and fresh, hot pizza made me ravenous. In fact, Eat Pray Love as a whole is exquisitely filmed. It is just a shame that a script about facing personal challenges turns out to be so facile.