Review by © Jane Freebury
Eat Pray Love, the book an American journalist and author wrote about a year she spent overseas, was in the US top 10 bestselling list for more than three years. Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal story became, with a bit of help from Oprah’s Book Club, an astonishing success.
Of course, it’s not so much about travel as it is about her, and she says so right from the start. We’re talking self-help manual here, not travelogue. But the problem with this is that there’s not a lot to engage with, really, which doesn’t explain what all those nice men see in her either. Even Roberts’ wide, winning smile can’t compensate for the fact that the central character is dull and self-absorbed, and doesn’t make for a good travel companion. Dipping into extracts of the book online suggests to me that the voice in the book is a lot more lively and engaging.
Elizabeth’s personal quest for change begins with an epiphany one night – she needs to change her life, she has ‘no pulse’ – when she realises she wants out. So she leaves a husband and a newly acquired boyfriend behind, the first of a series of decent guys she leaves in her wake, and heads for Italy to immerse herself in its culture. Food takes precedence over the men here, and she tucks into the carbonara and the gelato with abandon.
Next shift of scenery takes us to an ashram in Kolkata, India, where it’s less about food and more about nourishing the soul. She is required to do ‘selfless devotional work’ i.e. scrubbing floors, meditate, and respect the code of silence, which is hard for a self-confessed chatterbox.
When another guest at the ashram, Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) gives her a hard time then becomes a friend, it suddenly looks like things will become interesting. He does her the compliment of revealing his own pain, and it is a moment of truth in a sea of platitudes, but the screenplay sends him packing back to the States to sort out his life.
Final stop, beautiful Bali, and Elizabeth is on the point of finding herself, or restoring her balance, or whatever, when she encounters Felipe (Javier Bardem), a man to knock any girl off her perch. She certainly wasn’t going to be bowled over by the buff Aussie bloke she met at a party. Where did casting get its Australian actors?
It was however, a rare treat to see Christine Hakim, once a major star in Indonesia, in a small role as a traditional healer who develops a friendship with Elizabeth. Another interesting possibility that goes nowhere in this rambling odyssey of self-discovery.
In a capsule: An odyssey of self-discovery with Italy, India and Indonesia as background scenery. With a bland performance from Julia Roberts as the main character and interesting occasional characters who keep disappearing, there isn’t a lot to engage on this rambling journey.