Eat Pray Love

Background

MemoirEat, Pray, Love by American author Elizabeth Gilbert.

Premise: A recently divorced woman rediscovers who she is by exploring the meaning of life in Italy, India, and Bali.

Adaptation Status: The film Eat Pray Love was released to American audiences 13 August 2010. America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts stars along with Javier Bardem as her Brazilian man candy. Billy Crudup and James Franco also appear.

What’s the Story?

* SPOILER WARNING: Major plot points are revealed in this section.*

32 year old Elizabeth Gilbert has it all: the nice husband, the house in the suburbs, and a successful writing career. Logically, the next step is to start spawning perfect children to complete the picture. However, Liz is not happy with her life. She decides that her husband needs to go. She initiates a divorce and flings herself into a rebound with David, a sexy NYC actor. Liz and David have an on and off again relationship in the midst of nasty divorce proceedings, which only serves to drop her self-esteem further. She loses crazy amounts of weight and is miserable until one day she decides to fulfill a long-time dream of hers. Liz is going to learn Italian. Learning Italian reinvigorates Liz’s spirit and she finally leaves her David. Her publisher gives her a book deal paying for one year to travel around the world and rediscover herself, so Liz decides to head to Rome.

This leads to Part 1, Eat. Liz arrives to Rome determined to make a new start. She is enchanted by the fantastic Italian food and the rhythms of the Italian language. Liz enrolls in Italian classes and makes a wide assortment of friends, including the memorable Luca Spaghetti.  After 4 months of enjoying la dolce vita, Liz leaves Rome fatter and more fulfilled than ever before to tackle her next challenge.

Part 2 is Pray. Having finally rediscovered herself as a single woman, Liz decides it is time to reconnect with her spiritual side by visiting her Guru’s Ashram in India. Life at Ashram demands daily meditation and menial tasks such as scrubbing temple floors. She meets Richard from Texas, the most unlikely Yogi anyone could ever meet. Richard serves as a mentor who helps Liz figure out mediation and life in the Ashram. But most importantly, Richard teaches Liz  to forgive herself for everything that happened in her marriage. Finally, Liz can let go of her pain. After 3 months in India, Liz realizes there is nothing more she can garner from her stay and heads to her next location.

Part 3 is Love. At last, Liz leaves India and go to Bali to pay a visit to a toothless medicine man who she met once before while writing an article. Liz volunteers to teach the medicine man English in exchange for learning from his wisdom. She is determined to spend her time in Bali discovering balance. No longer does she need the decadence of Italy or the austerity of India in order to function. As a strong independent woman, she is ready for whatever comes her way. And thus she meets Felipe, a sexy Brazilian businessman who has also suffered from divorce. The two embark on a whirlwind romance which catches them both by surprise.  At the end, the two must part ways but they agree to divide their lives between each other’s countries. We are left hopeful that somehow, these crazy kids will beat the odds.

Why Adapt It?

Eat Pray Love was one of the hottest books of 2009. Oprah personally recommended the memoir on her show as one of her favorite books. And when a major media mogul sings your praises, people take note. Julia Roberts personally optioned the book as a starring vehicle.

I first read the book shortly after a horrific breakup upon a close friend’s recommendation. She told me, “You’re just like Liz Gilbert at the beginning of the book. She’s broken until she moves to Italy and hey, you’re already living abroad so you’re one step ahead”. My response? I ran, not walked, to my nearest bookshop to secure a copy. While I can’t say the book helped me nurse a broken heart, I was entranced by the idea of someone traveling around the world discovering the meaning of life and getting paid for it. Not to mention meeting a romantic Brazilian in tropical paradise. Lucky cow.

The film was written by Ryan Murphy (Glee) and Jennifer Salt. Ryan Murphy also directed the project and it was produced by Columbia Pictures. Eat Pray Love stars Julia Roberts as the broken woman Liz Gilbert who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and Javier Bardem as the man who inspires her to love again. Billy Crudup plays Liz’s ex-husband and James Franco is Liz’s misguided rebound shortly after the divorce.

Does This Adaptation Work?

I sat down to watch this film with my mother with medium expectations. As a starring vehicle for Julia Roberts, the former queen of romantic comedies, my guess was that they were going to include lots of exotic visuals and good looking men without the emotional anguish of the novel. After all, in an executive’s mind, how could America’s housewives relate to this self-indulgent journey of self-discovery? But, I remained hopeful that I would be proven wrong.

One of the things this film was clear about was thematic meaning. With a capital M. At times it felt as if the director was screaming at the audience through his main character, ” Pay attention: this scene is important! I am a deep thinker!”. There were some beautiful lines in voice-over but they often got drowned in the noise. A particularly beautiful line when Liz reflects on what she learned in India, “God dwells in you and through you”. Liz came to India so desperate to find the importance in life when she had the answers all along. She remembers this again later when she notes that ” everyone you meet and everything along the way is a clue”, a clue that brings Liz back to herself and allows her to leap into love.

The pacing of the film was bizarre, excruciatingly slow at certain moments and then fast forwarded at other times. I kept wanting Liz’s inner voice to hush so I could experience her journey along with her. It never felt like the story managed to find a comfortable rhythm. This could be because the writers were faced with the unenviable task of trying to fit three disparate emotional journeys into one coherent piece. They could have easily made an entire movie in just one of these amazing places. One choice they could have made when adapting this piece would have been taking the same lesson (a person needs a healthy body, heart, and soul to be fulfilled) and apply it to one location. But ultimately, that wouldn’t have rung true to Liz’s wandering spirit, the essence of who she is.

Julia Roberts did a perfectly fine job as Liz Gilbert. It must have been very difficult to eat non-stop in Italy and meditate in a tropical oasis. I feel for her. On a more serious note, I was impressed with how she managed to capture both Liz’s emotional anguish and her wide-eyed wonderment at the world. Javier Bardem’s gentle Felipe is a nice counterbalance for Liz’s nervous energy. You want him to break Liz’s barriers against love. Billy Crudup’s ex-husband was too dramatic to be sympathetic. In the book Gilbert maintains a diplomatic tone when discussing the divorce, but Crudup makes him seem insane. James Franco had a small role as the self-centered actor fling but nails the dangerously sexy younger man.

I really wanted to like the film as much as I enjoyed the book. I am a big fan of Ryan Murphy’s TV work, but film doesn’t seem to be his medium.  A good effort, but some of the emotional journey went missing in the process.

Final Score

0 What were they thinking?!

Needs improvement

0 A respectable adaptation

0 Better than the original

Lesson of The Day: Voice-over is like salt. Just like too much salt ruins a good broth, excessive voice-overs ruin a good script. It is tempting to include lots of voice-overs in order to preserve the language of the original material, but at what expense? In Eat Pray Love, these voice-overs violate the classic “show, don’t tell” principle. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s strong voice in the novel, but in the film, we should see who Liz Gilbert really is without her telling us. Less is more.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Eat Pray Love”
  1. wacked says:

    I enjoyed the book thoroughly .. but I havent seen the movie as yet.. though while i was reading the book, julia robert portrayed a great liz..or maybe just in my mind..

  2. If you get the chance to see it, I’d be curious to hear what you think. I was disappointed that a few of my favorite scenes from the novel were missing (such as the petition scene shortly before her husband signs the divorce papers). Julia Roberts does make a good Liz Gilbert, probably because they’re both so relate-able. Another person I could have seen as Liz is Kate Winslet.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. wacked says:

    Yeah, they always do that. Screenplay writers never do justice to the books, as everyone knows. But then when you see pointless scenes, that really make no sense (and which could have been substituted with better original scenes from the book), that is really disappointing.
    I’ll be sure to get my hands on the DVD soon, and let you know my thoughts..:)

    Oh yeah Kate Winslet would’ve done a fair job too! I definitely agree.

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