Everyone has the right to be happy, while the rest of us have the duty of patiently hearing them brag about it. Elizabeth Gilbert is very happy these days after a global odyssey to enlightenment and love that most folks can't afford, authoring a bestselling book about it, and then having Julia Roberts play her in the movie version.
Eat Pray Love is Gilbert's holiday letter to the masses, detailing everything wonderful and sad (then wonderful again) that happened to her in a year, most of it involving feelings of guilt. She shouldn't have quit her marriage and job, or eaten so much pizza that her jeans can't buckle, or slept with that younger man — or the older one, for that matter.
Saddled with regret, Liz does what any rational person and maybe JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater would do: She runs away to Italy, where nobody cares about your waistline. Then to Calcutta for an inner meditative massage. Finally to Bali, where that sweet-faced shaman Liz met years before awaits with more advice. Javier Bardem is on the island, too, so there's that.
Yes, it was quite a year and it makes a movie that for all of its bumper-sticker sentimentalizing feels more noble than those shopping spree Sex and the City flicks. At the very least it's a terrific travelogue starring someone we'd follow to the ends of the Earth. Eat Pray Love is like one of those rich dishes Liz consumes in Italy; robustly flavored and guiltily pleasurable.
Italians have a phrase — Che posso fare? — meaning "What can I do?" It's sometimes used when the answer is: "Nothing, just go with it." The phrase popped into my head when Liz got a crash course in expressive gestures from Roman hosts and stuck through the incredibly romantic fadeout. Lots of things happen in Eat Pray Love that only the lonely and book club members will understand. You just go with it.
Roberts makes it easy, summoning every ounce of acting talent sidelined for years by motherhood and projects beneath her. This isn't a showy performance, but one that involves subtle reactions to dramatic twists and genuine wonder at what her character discovers. Roberts still flashes that dazzling smile at precisely the right moments to endear, but those moments are effectively chosen. No doubt it will be remembered in awards season.
Director Ryan Murphy (TV's Glee) needs only to follow his star while cinematographer Robert Richardson locks up his seventh Oscar nomination by keeping the exotic locales in focus. Murphy's adapted screenplay (with Jennifer Salt) apparently lifts the proper Gilbert dialogue for whatever spiritual breakdown and breakthrough, delivered by a faultless supporting cast.
Eat Pray Love is femme filmmaking at its femmiest, yet fits nicely alongside other movies men don't usually confess to liking and women love. Sometimes "the sweetness of doing nothing" except traveling the world, finding yourself and pigging out is a seductive idea. Che posso fare?
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.