ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras D
starring Julia Roberts, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem
screenplay by Ryan Murphy & Jennifer Salt, based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert
directed by Ryan Murphy
by Walter Chaw It's a little tempting to not take the piss out of this latest instalment of How Julia Got Her Tube Packed, but the sins of Ryan Murphy's unwatchable Eat Pray Love are such that it's nigh impossible for any sentient human to resist. More interesting might be to chart the route America's sweetheart has taken to becoming one of the most irritating and hateful personas in the modern pantheon--how the once top-earning female star is lately this pinched, drawn, graceless thing trying her best and in vain to recapture the sociopathic sprightliness of her early successes. It could simply be the natural process of aging that makes it harder for her wronged-woman act to cull any sympathy: a 43-year-old woman making pouty lips and acting out is a much different animal than her 23-year-old self doing same. If she were to poison her husband or steal her best friend's bridegroom now, it would play very differently. And play differently it does as she dumps her non-descript/non-character hubby (Billy Crudup, typecast), buys an Italian phrasebook ("Every word in Italian is like a truffle!" the moron says), and travels to Bali in search of wisdom at the feet of adorably helpful minorities who only exist in movies like this to help coddled, rich, white people be content with their unimaginable privilege. If On the Waterfront was Kazan's apologia for singing like a canary, then Julia's late career seems an apologia for buying someone else's husband and getting away with it, for the most part, in the court of public opinion.
Based on some piece-of-shit travel memoir that I will never, ever read, Eat Pray Love has Julia as middlebrow nitwit Liz, an essayist who soothes her mid-life crisis by fucking first awful stage actor David (awful film actor James Franco), then soulful hamster Felipe (Javier Bardem, settling comfortably into Marcello Mastroianni roles a decade too early)--but not before finding herself at the expense of all the other clumsy types and caricatures helpfully posed like dog-eared footnotes along the way. Self-enlightenment never looked so Lifetime-movie-of-the-week-ready; I imagine this movie is stacked on shelves next to designer anti-anxiety meds and Haagen-Dazs for the best retail-therapy your childless aunt could ever hope to provide for herself. Join Liz as she sits through a histrionic divorce hearing; exclaims that David is "really good" as he butchers even the miserable material provided him; spars with foul curmudgeon with a heart of gold Richard (Richard Jenkins); and finally hits up her Republican friends for checks to buy some poor brown lady a hut. God bless you, bwana, for preaching materialism's sins by making a poor person dance with joy over all her new shit. Along the way, Liz dispenses advice to another size-4 actress about how a "muffin top" is no big deal because when you're naked and ready to fuck, men will oblige. This lady's a genius.
More curious are the types of women who will watch this and somehow identify with Liz, a well-funded travel writer from New York who goes on an all-expenses-paid journey through the scenic locales of the world, from ashram to beach to Roman street café. Eat Pray Love is a fantasy for the lonely and the largely unimaginative and just a half-step removed from the sad souls trading-in weekly bags of romance pulp at Paperback Patti's. It's an advertisement for spending a lot of devalued American dollars to insulate oneself from the actual experience of foreign cultures--an advocacy for tourism, spiritual or otherwise, in the pursuit of an entirely vacuous kind of enlightenment (the only depth someone like Liz can achieve in the course of an unexamined life). Though Eat Pray Love is generally dismissed with a condescending pat on the butt, the truth is that were Roberts's star not already so dim, it would join toxic stuff like Sex and the City 2 in the popular conversation about why exactly those same sentient humans who can't resist taking a poke at it hate the representation of Americans in the world theatre. It's an ugly movie with beautiful scenery--a wonderfully-played seduction scene with a serial killer who looks like Fabio. There's a demand for movies like this. There's a demand for pissing videos and child pornography, too.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Eat Pray Love docks on Blu-ray from Sony in a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer with an autumnal glow that makes everyone look...warm? "Orange" the better term, as flesh tones have been tweaked to mirror the cozy atmosphere director Murphy strives to conjure throughout. It's like a Barry White song adapted into a bloated feature film, visual scheme intact. In its gauzy, soft-focus prettification, it also suggests a PENTHOUSE spread. What this means is that the image wants for fine detail--which would only really matter if the director were an artist instead of a pimp. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track fares better, with nice atmospherics now and again (especially in group or party scenes). Both the theatrical version and a Director's Cut of the picture are available on this disc, though there doesn't appear to be a deleted-footage marker to assist in auditing the differences between them; on principle, I can't call more Eat Pray Love an improvement. A comparison of the runtimes reveals 13 extra minutes in the DC.
If you care for further confirmation of your awesome taste in the purchase of this product, scroll over to the special features, where you'll discover "Ryan Murphy's Journey with Eat Pray Love" (5 mins., HD), in which the director tells you how meaningful the book was to him even though he's not part of the target demographic and, later, how much the author of the book loved the film version of her life. No mention is made, however, of the merchandising and the boost to Bali's tourism trade as the marketing machine went into overdrive around this personal little project. "The Beginning of the Journey" (15 mins., HD) is a talking-heads-and-B-roll number that finds author Elizabeth Gilbert telling us what we already know (having seen the film presumably prior to watching the special features) before moving on to principal cast and crew, who discuss the book's--and the film's--super-special impact on their lives. Note that Franco seems as blissed-out and strange in an interview setting as he does in every other. "Praying in India" (15 mins., HD) is more of the same, literally; it'd all be less distasteful if it didn't all seem like justification for exploiting other cultures for personal gain. Bardem finally surfaces in "Finding Balance" (12 mins.), which goes on at length about new spiritual tourism hotspot Bali and the enlightenment discovered in the shooting of it. Start-up trailers for Salt and The Other Guys join previews for Mother and Child, Easy A, Welcome to the Rileys, Tamara Drewe, and Grown Ups in a sub-menu. A music video for something called "Better Days" (4 mins.) and a BD-Live option close out the slipcovered experience.Originally published: January 4, 2011.