Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ruminations on Eat, Pray Love (Film, Literature, Julia Roberts and Ryan Murphy)

Because I’m an uninhibited fan of literature I have a slight affinity for adaptations. The thing is, some books just shouldn’t be adapted to film. It’s not the case of a Doctor Zhivago or The English Patient where adapting is a chore. Film is a visual medium, literature is not –Eat, Pray, Love, from what I’ve gleaned from it, is a vaguely nonfictional work about a woman’s journey to self-fulfilment. It sounds woefully tawdry, and not to knock at Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey (who me? never) it probably is. I’ll take a wild guess and assume that Ryan Murphy’s adaptation is mostly meticulous – and that’s the essential problem of Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth’s journey is itself a bildungsroman (of sorts), and try as Murphy might there’s little connectivity from New York to Rome to India to Bali. The only connection we have is Julia’s Elizabeth and truth be told, Julia Robert is kind of brilliant. She wouldn’t make my list of 25 favourite actresses, although I do enjoy her acting. I didn’t realise that I’d been missing a good Julia Roberts romp until earlier this year at the Golden Globes when she was just so delightfully caustic all the while being so well-meant when some ridiculous EW reporter asked her if she passed over the lead role in The Blind Side. I sort of loathed The Blind Side, but even if her talents are doubted more often than not Julia has the power to turn muck into some feasible. Granted, Eat, Pray, Love but the four divergent stories only get a semblance of fluidity because Julia’s general resplendence makes it one.
Ryan Murphy has a knack for episodic writing (Nip/Tuck first season is still excellent in retrospect) and that becomes an issue with these four divergent storylines. He’s smart enough to weave masses of exposition in interesting (mildly at least) dialogue but that’s a problem. We keep meeting these characters, we get interested and it’s as if we’re waiting for the second episode of the pilot – and it never comes. True to form, Murphy loves to wow us in the beginning, the New York chapter of the tale opens organically and the fact that’s gifted with the likes of Viola Davis, Mike O’Malley, Billy Crudup and James Franco makes it all the better. No matter how interesting Italy is, a follow-up to that can’t help but be disappointing. It’s easy to feel that Liz is just a rich woman with too much that she doesn’t know what to do. There’s just that slight feeling that her journey’s just a bit too self-centred to make an entire film about – film doesn’t get the chance to be as personal as literature. But Julia has a knack for turning harsh characters into softer hues (re Closer, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and she manages to accomplish the same for the most part – but the entire film can’t help but feel a little limp, because at the end of the day we’re left there wondering “what’s the point?”. Why are we supposed to care about this woman’s journey when everyone around her seems more interesting than she does? At the end of the day, Julia’s the reason we care. Elizabeth’s experiences seem decidedly ephemeral; Julia’s performance is a little more worthwhile.
C+/B- (Julia: B+)


Ryan T. said...

Very good review. I love how you liken it to TV and Murphy giving us enticing pilots, but us wanting a second episode that never comes. In retrospect, that's probably where my indifference came from after I saw the film.

CrazyCris said...

I totally missed this one! Wasn't out in Spain when I left, was on its way out of the cinemas when I got to Belgium. Grrr... I hate missing a Julia Roberts movie!!!
Haven't read the book, and don't plan to. Was only interested because of her!

Jose said...

Love love love Julia. She's such a big movie star that you don't care you know she's Julia and never Elizabeth. I enjoyed the movie a lot because I was having fun with Julia, plus I'm a softy for "rich people with troubles" movies.

Colleen said...

Great review! This movie missed alot of notes for me. Her character seemed quite selfish and easily bored but we were set up to root for her. She was also quite well traveled to begin with, so her journey didn't seem like a big deal either. I like, not love Julia Roberts. I think she's one of those actresses that Hollywood wants us to think she's greater and pretty than she is. I think she does a good job in everything she does, she just never blows me away.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ryan murphy needs to hone his skills to suit the medium, he obviously has talent but it could be used more efficiently.

cris if you love julia, you'll at least be entertained.

jose yeah, julia rocks it, but i especially loved the dynamic between her and viola. i wanted more of that, and i felt kind of robbed.

colleen julia has shortcomings (then again, who doesn't) but she knows her strengths and plays off of them better than many of her contemporaries.

James said...

I have always been a fan of Julia Roberts but her choice for a story on this one leaves a lot to be desired.