If you enjoyed Sex and the City 2 for the friendship-centric, over-the-top fantasy romp that it was, then think of Eat Pray Love (opening today) as Sex’s more bookish, solitary, and endearing kid sister. This film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling post-divorce travel memoir, starring Julia Roberts as Gilbert, has equally eye-popping exotic locales (namely Italy, India, and Indonesia), sumptuous natural scenery, and decadent attention to detail. But instead of taking viewers along on a madcap safari of conspicuous American consumerism abroad, Eat Pray Love follows Gilbert on a quest for something much more elusive than a trip on a private Saudi jet—she’s looking for inner peace.
In the film’s opening scenes, we are introduced to a tightly wound, urbanite version of Gilbert—a woman in her 30s just coming to the realization that the life she’s so carefully crafted for herself has become intolerable. In response, she shakes things up, and the fallout is major. She loses her husband (Billy Crudup), her home, her money, and even her rebound relationship (James Franco), plus her friends think she’s nuts. But out of the rubble of what used to be her life emerges a delicious, exciting, escape plan. Gilbert will leave everything she knows behind and make three pilgrimages over the course of the next year. First, she’ll reconnect with pleasure by living in Rome, eating everything in sight, and learning Italian. Next, she’ll spend four months immersed in rigorous devotional practice at an Ashram in India to reacquaint herself with a sense of the divine. And finally, she will end her journey with an apprenticeship under an ancient Balinese medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto) who, when they met two years earlier, promised to teach her everything he knows in exchange for English lessons. It is through these three excursions that Gilbert hopes to rediscover a sense of self, purpose, and balance. But only time will tell if she can rise to the many opportunities and challenges each locale has in store for her.
As an audience member, if you’re the kind of person who would begrudge Gilbert this odyssey because you and most people you know could never afford the luxury of spending a year traveling to find yourself (and I’ve heard this complaint a lot), then it’s important to note that this a stumbling block the film does little to overcome. But if the idea of Gilbert’s escape and reinvention instead strikes you as an appealing daydream you wouldn’t mind losing yourself in for a few hours (two and a half hours to be exact—pee beforehand ladies!), then this gentle, meditative, well-told tale has a lot to offer. [Emily Rems]