Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Eat Pray Love

Film #385

THE PLOT

A married woman realizes how unhappy her marriage really is, and that her life needs to go in a different direction. After a painful divorce, she takes off on a round-the-world journey to “find herself”.

Year 2, Film #20

THE REVIEW: Eat Pray Love is based off of The New York Times Best Seller list memoir Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (who has also given a TED talk as well). Writers don’t necessarily need to have major life experiences to write well; all you need in theory are the right words to tell a story. However, as I’ve learned in practice, it’s very hard to write – fiction or nonfiction – without having tales to tell. While I’m still quite young, the interesting parts of my life would fail to fill more than a few chapters in a book or more than a modest short film. Gilbert on the other hand experienced enough in one year to not only write a 352 page book, but also fill a 133 minute film without a whole bunch of filler or meaningless garbage. Through visiting Italy, India, and Bali and the reasons why she went on her trip, Eat Pray Love provides some life experiences that you can watch and almost feel a part of without having experienced them yourself.

Most of the time when I say film is a great medium to be transported to different worlds and experience things you’ve never seen before, I’m talking about fiction. Traveling to a different time or place to see the extraordinary in an ordinary way. It’s not often that it can be applied to nonfiction. Elizabeth Gilbert (portrayed by Julia Roberts) – also known as the great nickname “Groceries” in India – begins the film married to Steven (Billy Crudup) before they quickly divorce. To use terminology from the film, Gilbert is unbalanced in her life and she wants to find a way to balance it. She dates, and subsequently breaks up with David (James Franco) before realizing that she needs to devote some time to just herself and will do that by eating (in Italy), praying (in India), and loving (in Bali). A story about love, heartbreak, and trying to find yourself is nowhere near foreign to films let alone in real life, but Gilbert’s journey is unique. Not only is the combination of locations, and corresponding discoveries, one of a kind, but the changes she goes through are equally as important. Many times in films like these (not necessarily nonfiction ones), the main character will learn a lot and then go through a miraculous, all-inclusive change to solve all the problems in their life as a conclusion. The end result here is the same – Gilbert finds happiness again through what she learns – but the process is different and what makes this film special. Instead of pretending like things just happen, Eat Pray Love takes a more truthful approach. The changes Gilbert goes through are incremental and not always solving the complete problem. Bit by bit, piece by piece she learns and then applies. And she struggles along the way as well, reaching roadblocks from preventing her going any farther. Again, not uncommon in films as there’s many moments of conflict that arise for the main character, but Eat Pray Love doesn’t feel like they’re written in on purpose to create conflict; they arise naturally and provide enlightening moments for Gilbert.

Despite all the amazing life experiences presented in the film, especially for someone so inexperienced in life as myself to watch and almost absorb, there are many fundamental aspects to the film I did not like. The two main ones are the voice over, and a somewhat peculiar visual style. For the voice over, the intent is very obvious: Eat, Pray, Love the book is a nonfiction account of Gilbert’s life and therefore features (what I have to assume, I haven’t read the memoir – shocker! – but given the genre, I’d assume it’s written in first person) many of Gilbert’s thoughts, or insights. In writing this is something that is very easy to do because you can simply write, “I was thinking…” or “I thought about…” or even use of italics to indicate thoughts. In film, the only way to hear the thoughts is for them to be verbalized, typically – as is the case here – though voice over narration. Again, the intent (to convey Gilbert’s thoughts) is very clear, but it’s poorly done. Film is a great medium for seeing and does a great job at showing what happens to Gilbert. But throwing in narration is not only unnecessary, but distracting. To harken back to my favorite genre to pick on, the musical, I can’t help but feel that certain tools should be saved for their respective media. Just like filming a play or musical doesn’t inherently make it a film, transferring the words from a memoir to a script won’t make it a film. A play or musical is a live performance, meant to change and be highly nuanced. Writing, or a memoir in this specific case, is meant to deliver a broad range of information in such a way that it provides deep understanding and not just a cursory view. Films are meant to be highly crafted and tailored to provoke emotional responses and provide entertainment. Just because in one medium narration works (the book) doesn’t mean it works for another (the film).

My other complaint has to do with the visual style. This isn’t dealing with the cinematography or look of the film in general. As a whole, the film looked beautiful. It’s not a hard thing to do when you’re going to some exotic locales but nonetheless it was a job well done. Where I object is the constantly recurring moments of extremely rapid cutting and montage-like sequences. These were most frequent in the “eating” portion of the film (when Gilbert is in Italy) but are also seen throughout the rest of the film as well. For example, Gilbert sits down to eat a delicious spaghetti in Rome or pizza in Naples, and then you see quick flashes (maybe 5-10 frames or so) of different parts of the food or its preparation, all being closeups which adds to the disorienting effect. One moment everything is proceeding normally, the next images of cheese, dough, gravy, wine bottle, cork, glass, plate, and pizza peel flash across, and then you’re back to Gilbert sitting down at a restaurant. For an experimental film, I might find these moments to be interesting. But when the rest of the film is “normal” and you have these couple second clips sprinkled throughout, it just raises questions. If the filmmakers were going for a montage, why wouldn’t a more traditional (read: longer) one work? I think it would still be unnecessary in this case but at least it would remove the disorienting part.

While I can’t say Eat Pray Love is as moving as other films have been for me, it still presented many life experiences in new and interesting ways while feeling real. It’s not the specific details that make this film entertaining, it’s how those details come together that make it worth watching. A few aspects hurt the film such as the voice over narration and sporadic and flashing montages, both of which seem unnecessarily added. So there’s some stuff to love and some stuff not to love. But while Eat Pray Love may not be the best film made, or will be your favorite, I would still recommend seeing it.

THE RATING: 3 out of 5