Julia Roberts packs her bags and travels across the European and Asian continents in Ryan Murphy's ('Running with Scissors') latest production on self-discovery. Based on the widely popular, bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat Pray Love' stays mostly true to the core themes explored in its source. While fans will be pleased to know this, issues arise when certain situations and scenarios feel far-too convenient and well . . . episodic. Many of the same criticisms were made of the book as well, and this adaptation, co-written by Murphy, can't seem to resolve them. However, with a pretty woman in the lead and beautiful cinematography of exotic locales, the movie actually works as a straightforward romantic drama — of the pop lit variety and little else.
The one thing the movie has going for it is that it features a story many can easily relate to, a desire for a happier and more meaningful life. Of course, many don't have the luxury of signing a book deal beforehand, complete with a hefty advance, in order to bring this desire to fulfillment. The movie makes very light issue of this fact, mentioning it merely in passing — a quick exchange between Liz (Roberts) and her agent/best friend (Viola Davis). But that's neither here nor there. No, the focus is on a successful writer suddenly reaching a midlife crisis and deciding to abandon her bourgeois existence in order to find balance. Herein lies what some might see as the drawback — a well-off person whines about their life. But I find it to the point and my primary reason for enjoying the movie — a material life is an empty life.
While in the middle of divorcing her husband (Billy Crudup), Liz jumps into a passionate affair with a younger man (James Franco) and discovers that such excitement does little to make herself feel better. Taking the prophecy of a ninth-generation medicine man to heart, Liz plans to escape for a year and sets her sights on Italy where she learns to enjoy life ("Eat"). From there, she travels to India and works on her spirituality ("Pray") alongside a scene-stealing Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas. Before concluding her all-expense paid trip, Liz studies with the wise old man in Bali and finally understands how to love. And what better way to do this than with a smarmy but charming and hunky Brazilian (Javier Bardem) who displays his "I love life" patch prominently on his shoulder.
Narratively speaking, this does create a rather anecdotal feel to the entire storyline. It shows a series of events which are somewhat disconnected from one another, yet they each offer an import and value appropriate to the situation. It's a cookie-cutter, easy to digest message on self-betterment. If you're looking for something a bit more profound, then look elsewhere because this is ultimately a spiritual journey without any deep, revelatory meanings. It's straight to the point with little to offer beyond material entertainment and its simplistic metaphysical musings. 'Eat Pray Love' has the semblance and familiarity of a romantic comedy. But really, the film is a romance drama and clearly promises to provide just that. And well, it delivers in that respect with an ending that's rewarding and earned — from the perspective of the characters, that is.
While I obviously do hold some reservations about the movie, I admit I also quite enjoyed the expedition from Italy to Indonesia. Working with the always-impressive cinematographer Robert Richardson ('Shutter Island,' 'The Aviator,' 'Inglourious Basterds'), Murphy offers viewers a great deal of beauty to soak in. The film comes with plenty of gorgeous scenery surrounding Liz and should serve as part of her trek towards self-love. It may not provide a deep message on life and spirituality, but 'Eat Pray Love' accomplishes what it sets out to do — travel the world in search of a satisfying ending, while eating, and praying.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings the movie to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc. It's housed in a standard blue keepcase with a glossy slipcover. It also comes with two cuts of the film: the theatrical version and the director's cut. One is six minutes longer than the other, and the difference between them is some very minor added scenery and bits of dialogue. At startup, the disc commences with a series of skippable trailers for Sony products or other movies by the studio. Afterward, viewers are greeted with the typical menu selection while full-motion clips of the movie play in the background.
'Eat Pray Love' arrives with a heavily stylized and dreamlike appearance, meant to romanticize the narrative. The use of color correction filters and diffusers doesn't ruin or distract too much from enjoying some of the picture's finer aspects. But the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) as a whole is not really the sort of material expected of a new high-def release.
Contrast is affected most by the deliberate photography, often falling on the lower end of the grayscale. It also seems to run a bit higher than normal, causing some clipping and blown highlights in many sequences. There's even noticeable posterization in the scene on top of a rooftop in India, when Liz imagines dancing with her ex-husband. Black levels also waver between accurate and slightly faded, but at least they're consistent. Fine object and textural details are a similarly mixed bag. Sometimes the transfer is excellently defined and distinct, especially in the close-ups. And other times, it softens considerably, mostly due to some white-washing. Still, the image remains clean and free of any other serious artifacts.
Best of all, colors are bright and natural, with healthy flesh tones. The palette places more emphasis on the secondary hues, giving the presentation an attractive cinematic quality. Overall, Ryan Murphy's film looks good on Blu-ray, but I suspect audiences won't be completely satisfied with the video.
Sony Pictures gives the spiritual romance a very good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's more impressive than the video, full of subtlety and substance. The design, of course, isn't the kind with lots of activity in the surrounds, but it exhibits plenty of attractive ambiances which quietly immerse the listener. Every now and then, discrete effects, likes birds chirping in the distance and the wind blowing through the trees, can be clearly heard to give certain scenes good presence.
Being a character-driven drama, dialogue takes priority over the rest of the track. Conversations, even the most intimate whispers, are well-prioritized and intelligible throughout. In fact, the lossless mix's strongest feature can be heard in the soundstage, exhibiting terrific fidelity and warmth. Dario Marianelli's ('Atonement,' 'Pride & Prejudice') original score and the other song selections fill the front channels evenly and bleed nicely into the rears. Dynamic range is surprisingly expansive and sharp rendered while the low end provides the music with an understated depth that feels true and authentic. Considering the subject matter, 'Eat Pray Love' sounds better than initially expected, a very good soundtrack for a romantic drama.
This Blu-ray edition 'Eat Pray Love' arrives with a disappointing selection of supplements. Just one item.
Adapted from the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat Pray Love' follows the spiritual journey of a woman in search of herself. With beautiful photography of Italy, India, and Bali, Ryan Murphy delivers an entertaining romantic drama intent only on depicting Gilbert's adventure of finding meaning in her life. The Blu-ray comes with average video and better audio, but a small collection of supplemental material. Overall, it's not a bad package but it's definitely one fans will find more satisfying. Others will want to rent it first.