If you watch Eat Pray Love with your brain switched on and two eyes open, there’s plenty to turn your stomach. Bon appetite: wealthy, beautiful, successful woman (Julia Roberts) with handsome, loving husband (poor Billy Crudup) decides it’s just not good enough and chucks it all away. She instantly and inexplicably pulls hottie toy-boy James Franco. Then chucks him. Then flounces round the world, doing nothing except eating delicious food in gorgeous countries. Feel sick yet? We’re not done.
She never works, never overcomes any difficult obstacles, never makes any startling personal discoveries. Finally, she bumps into sexiest-man-alive Javier Bardem. He throws himself at her. She treats him like crap.
For these reasons alone, you’d expect to think Eat Pray Love should be dipped in concrete and dropped in the ocean. But somehow, maddeningly, it’s much harder to hate Nip/Tuck and Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s film than it should be.
A big part of this is Roberts’ effortless performance, dodging your hate-bullets with amazing Matrix-like dexerity to prove exactly why she’s still of the biggest stars Hollywood has. Usually, a scene in which the willowy 42-year-old mother of three pretends to have trouble getting into a pair of jeans would have most women going Death Wish to murder her with their bare hands.
Usually. Then again, Oscar-winning master cinematographer Robert Richardson usually works for Oliver Stone, Tarantino and Scorsese. Here he’s put to work making pasta look like sex in a bowl. As food porn, it’s top shelf. But despite jetting from Italy to India to Bali (“Bwawlie,” according to Roberts), Eat Pray Love is no travelogue. Its locations might as well be rear-projection – the film isn’t actually interested in them at all.
Worse, it’s way too hollowed-out to say anything about the indefinable ‘something’ that can go missing from a person’s life. But here we are, faced with the fact that anything starring James Franco (absolutely loving being cast as a dilettante actor), Javier Bardem (maybe still wondering why he turned down Wall Street 2 for this) and Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins (getting paid to hit autopilot) simply cannot be all bad. Yes, that’s scientific fact. Even if Jenkins’ hippie Texan exists solely to cough up bumper-sticker life lessons that may make you want to administer his vow of silence with your shoe.
The real woman behind this is New York travel journalist Elizabeth Gilbert, whose bestselling memoir was about reconnecting with herself and the world. Swapping true sensuality and spirituality for off-the-shelf escapist cliché, Murphy’s movie is swung lazily at middle-class 30-40something women who never went travelling and are a bit bored with their lives.
Oh well. If the boys are allowed Lord Of The Rings and Die Hard, the girls should be allowed films about eating lots of pasta but never getting fat. Just don’t complain when this guilty-pleasure fantasy leaves you feeling empty.