Movie poster courtesy of Plan B Entertainment/Sony Pictures
When Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love was published in 2003, it became an international best seller. A memoir, Gilbert tells her story of a spiritual quest that took her to three exotic locations: Italy, India, and Indonesia. Gilbert traveled to and spent some time in each of the locations as she recovered from the aftermath of a devastating divorce. The film version of Gilbert’s story was released in 2010 starring Julia Roberts, as Gilbert, and Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, James Franco, and Billy Crudup in other title roles.
I am a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert as a writer and was fascinated by her portrait of Eustace Conway in her 2003 book, The Last American Man. When her book, Eat, Pray, Love came out in 2006, because I was already a fan, I was eager to read it.
I enjoyed Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love very much and was deeply moved by her accounts of the heartbreak experienced at the loss of her marriage and the resulting quest to rediscover the truth of her life. In the book, the quest is very much of a spiritual nature, a fact that isn’t as strongly emphasized in the film. Another point that isn’t emphasized in the film: the film portrays Gilbert as seemingly inspired by this trip all on her own, while in fact, Gilbert had negotiated a book deal with her publisher to finance her year abroad. While I do not question the spiritual nature of Gilbert’s journey, I can’t help but feel she was as interested in selling a book as well.
Gilbert’s year-long quest to self-discovery and healing had her residing for several months in Italy, to learn the Italian language and enjoy wonderful Italian food; and then another few months in India, to study the teachings of a guru in an Hindu ashram; and then finally to Indonesia, to study under a Balinese medicine man.
Ryan Murphy directed the film and co-wrote the screen-play with Jennifer Salt. Ryan Murphy has another feature film under his direction, Running with Scissors, and he has also directed TV shows, including Glee. I wonder how differently the film would have come out if Elizabeth Gilbert had adapted her own book for the big-screen rather than someone else.
Julia Roberts is cast as Elizabeth Gilbert and seems a likely choice: Ms. Roberts is an exceptionally capable actress that has an impressive body of work to her credit. And while Roberts more than rises to the task of reaching the emotional peaks required of the role, I couldn’t help but feel her casting choice was a bit off the mark. I found myself wondering if Nicole Kidman might have been a better choice.
Javier Bardem, on the other hand, is an excellent choice to play Gilbert’s Brazilian lover, Felipe, although his casting has been criticized because he is a Spanish actor. Bardem, while certainly easy on the eyes, did an excellent job of portraying the emotionally caring and sensitive Felipe.
Richard Jenkins, also an excellent actor, was also a bit of a casting disappointment for me as well. In the book, I had imagined the “Richard from Texas” as Sam Elliot-type of character, albeit a 250-pound Sam Elliot type. Also, in the book, I had a sense that the banter between Gilbert and “Richard from Texas” was more of a teasing and playful kind, rather than the aggressive and confrontational type portrayed between Roberts and Jenkins in the film. Granted, Gilbert was often exasperated by her relationship with “Richard from Texas” in the book, but again, in the book I felt their relationship warmer, kinder, and more playful.
The film is certainly luscious in its landscapes: the film is, after all, set in beautiful, exotic locations full of Balinese rice paddies and beach scenes to the ancient art and architecture of Italy and the mystique of India. The film is also beautifully scored and the song selections are spot-on: I will own this soundtrack.
As previously mentioned, in the book, the reader has a better sense of Ms. Gilbert’s journey as spiritual in nature. However, in the film, her quest seems to be more about seeking pleasure and new love, although admittedly, it is certainly a more intriguing cinematic adventure to be searching for romance and pleasure than spiritual fulfillment. In the book and in the film, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness at the end: I was hoping her spiritual quest would provide a different ending for her story; however, instead, both in the book and in the film, we find her embarking upon the same familiar path yet again.