Last night I was invited to see a preview screening of Eat, Pray Love at the Legacy Place theater (on the Lux Level where you have armchair like seats and a waitress who brings you food and booze!) Of course, I was apprehensive going into it. While I know a good percentage of you didn’t love the book and found it self-indulgent and whiny, I loved it, which made the stakes higher for me. Unfortunately, it did disappoint. It was entertaining, but lacked the depth and emotional recognition I found in the book. I actually found myself able to see why people might see the story as whiny and self-indulgent. The screenwriters kind of glossed over the real devestation and desperation Gilbert felt in her life and so it made my ability to connect with the character much harder. I know there is a time limit and you can only develop so much, but they tidied up the story so much that it lost a lot of it’s soul. The pivotal bathroom floor scene for example, which is an important part of the book became a quick, “couple-tear-drop”, totally underwhelming moment. Also missing was the raw sense of humor- I laughed only a handful of times and while reading the book I remember laughing quite a bit. The brutal honesty and amusing anecdotes Gilbert wove into her recounting of her experience were watered down in the film.
The biggest problem is Julia Roberts in this role. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is too difficult to separate “movie star Julia” from “Liz”. Whenever someone in the film called her character Liz I found myself being confused because all I saw and heard was Julia, with that big smile and cackling laugh. And frankly, it makes it hard to feel bad for her and feel her despair. Now I actually really like Julia Roberts, but this was a major case of miscasting. I would have liked to see someone like Michelle Williams, Laura Linney or Kate Winslet in this role, who has less of a giant Hollywood identity. Another character let down was Richard from Texas- my favorite character! In the book his one liners made me laugh out loud and warm my heart- and when I saw the real Richard on Oprah I loved him even more. But this Richard was kind of sad and not as feisty as the real one and some of his better lines were left out. Javier Bardem was good (is he ever bad?) and James Franco can certainly play a slightly caddish boyfriend without issue. A great character was that of Lucca Spaghetti in Italy, a delightful moment in the film.
Now it wasn’t all bad- the scenery was gorgeous and there were some really lovely moments that made me revisit why I need to read this book again. The general concept of self-discovery and looking inward, not in a self-indulgent way but in a desire to find out what REALLY makes you happy is one I personally need to be reminded of. So if you loved the book and want to see the movie, go see it! If you hated the book, absolutely skip it. If you have not read the book, it’s not the ideal way to experience Gilbert’s memoir, but it’s better than not experiencing it at all in my opinion.