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+)