(out of 5)
What happens when an ignorant, self-indulgent American who is dissatisfied with her life for no specific reason decides to roam the Earth in search of her spiritual balance? Well, she certainly finds some lovely new ways to do her hair. Julia Roberts plays a fictionalized Elizabeth Gilbert in this insipid adaptation of her bestselling memoir, the kind of book adored by women who read The Secret and talk about manifesting their destiny while always letting their boyfriends choose the restaurant they’re going to eat at. Unhappy in her marriage to Billy Crudup, Roberts decides to pull up her roots and see the world, stopping in Italy to regain her appetite for good food, visiting India in order to rediscover her spirituality, then ending in Bali in order to learn, once again, to love (with Javier Bardem, in this particular case). Roberts is fully up to task, twenty years after her breakthrough in Pretty Woman showing absolutely no wear or tear from the two decades of travelling the road of fame. It’s wonderful to see her react joyfully to a hot, naked Australian boy on the beach or to see how sensitive she is at taking in other people’s difficult experiences (her reaction to Bardem’s having to part from his son really is honestly sweet). Here’s the problem, though: while the character talks about finding her spiritual balance and trying to figure out who she should be, she never actually learns anything. She goes to countries where people are grateful if they can feed their children more than three times a week and takes no notice of how First World she is by comparison, blithely ignoring everyone around her and concentrating solely on herself, until she finally does help someone out by giving them something material. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a woman who is constantly dissatisfied but is also constantly turning away men: Billy Crudup, as her husband, and James Franco, as the young actor who salves the wound, look embarrassed to be in the movie at all, Richard Jenkins is ridiculous as a Texan who takes on faux guru duties in India, and Bardem is a romance novel cliché. Gilbert never satisfyingly tells us why her life isn’t quite good enough for her, then goes to three countries and, without ever doing any soul-searching, avoids taking stock of what she has learned and instead keeps letting men tell her what to do; all that work and in the end all she does is get married. Besides this, the film is uneven and, despite the charms of Roberts and her male co-stars, far too long and uninviting.
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Produced by Dede Gardner
Music by Dario Marianelli
Production Design by Bill Groom
Costume Design by Michael Dennison
Film Editing by Bradley Buecker