Based on the New York Times best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love is the story of a New York writer named Liz (Julia Roberts), who ends her marriage and, saddled with regret, does what any rational person would do -- runs away for a journey around world. Though female self-discovery is the central focus of the film, director Ryan Murphy (Glee) glosses over the plot in favor of picturesque exotic destinations photographed at sunset, food displayed with mouth-watering intensity, and supporting characters bursting with vitality. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that imagery, but those familiar with the book might find Murphy's interpretation confusing and perhaps a little too self-indulgent.
The story centers on Liz, who wakes up in the middle of the night and decides that she's unhappy in her marriage, and asks her flighty husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup), for a divorce. Soon Liz meets David (James Franco), a "Yogi from Yonkers" and the actor who played the lead in a play that she wrote; he's quite a few years younger than her and teaches her the ways of his spiritual guru. Despite this new love affair, Liz still feels unsatisfied with her life, and just as her relationship with David starts to fall apart, she decides that she's going to check out for a year, travel, and find God -- and maybe even herself -- along the way. Her quest takes her first to Italy, where she learns how to embrace life through food; next she travels to India, where she spends time at an ashram and meets Richard (Richard Jenkins) from Texas, who teaches her to forgive herself; and lastly she goes to Bali to study with a quirky, toothless medicine man and meets Brazilian charmer Felipe (Javier Bardem), who brings the possibility of love into her life again.
Eat Pray Love allows Roberts' longtime fans to travel the world and back again with her. Her performance isn't a showy one, but one with subtle reactions to dramatic twists and genuine wonder at what her character discovers during her journey. She flashes that infamous smile even through tears -- she cries in every other scene -- at the right moments (effectively chosen by Murphy), but despite her performance, it's difficult for the audience to connect to her character. Murphy, along with screenwriter Jennifer Salt, has a hard time translating Liz's feelings of guilt -- she shouldn't have quit her marriage, or eaten so much pizza, or slept with that younger man -- to the screen.
Still, the film taps into the escapist romantic aspects of the journey that make it oh so charming, and in between appropriate bouts of music announcing every port of call, the film proves to truly be a guilty pleasure. Roberts' relaxed gracefulness, coupled with a faultless supporting cast, makes this exotic travelogue delightful to watch and difficult to resist.