Julia Roberts goes to find herself for a year. While doing this she eats food, sits and prays and learns to love after her messy divorce. She clearly has an amazing time doing all these things; gasping, smiling, crying and laughing as if in some kind of non-stop attempt to make the audience feel all the powerful emotions she is feeling. We don’t. We can’t. We just don’t care. Or at least I didn’t while sitting through this weak and annoying adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel book/journey diary/wonder-struck memoir/semi-autobiography.
Julia plays Elizabeth, or Liz as she’s referred to in the film. Liz doesn’t feel happy in her life, and after telling her husband that she doesn’t want to be married to him anymore, she takes off on the previously described trip to find herself. This is after breaking up with a puppy-dog-eyed actor played by James Franco – her “rebound” guy as her friend Viola Davies puts it. Liz packs up her life in a storage container and sets out to travel to Italy (to eat), India (to Pray) and Bali (to meet a toothless fortune-teller who strokes her palms and smiles creepily). Of course, in Bali she also falls in love, but she doesn’t know that at the time. That comes later, in the form of an eccentric Javier Bardem.
Her trip to Italy is the most entertaining. She eats a lot of food, and the film goes all-out for unashamed gastro-porn. Pasta and pizza and more pasta and spaghetti carbonara…it is all thrown at us by Robert Richardson’s eye-wateringly beautiful cinematography. One particular memorable moment involves Liz eating a large plate of spaghetti while Mozart’s Queen of the Night blasts through the speakers. It’s powerful, joyful and celebrates good food and music. It’s a shame the whole film couldn’t have been this way.
Things start to go downhill entertainment-wise when we get to India. Liz becomes part of an ashram, seems patronisingly obsessed with the locals’ rituals of the day and finds working for her keep (she washes the floors of meditation halls) not a chore but something enlightening. The whole point of her trip to India is to enlighten herself spiritually and come to terms with the troubles of her past. So there’s a lot of sitting, meditating, and soul-searching, and we are made to watch and wait while Liz does this. It’s intolerably tedious, and any pity you may have felt for Liz in the previous hour dissipates quickly. This section of the film also includes a bizarre cameo from Eastenders-actress Sophie Thompson and an overdone subplot involving a grumpy fellow soul-searcher (the magnificent Richard Jenkins). Liz even attends a wedding of a young local girl and plasters her wistful wow, isn’t it uplifting people actually live this way-expression over her face. While she’s doing this, I couldn’t help thinking “Christ, she’s still got to go to Bali”.
When she finally gets round to going to Bali, Indonesia, she strikes up a friendship with Mr Bardem. This is the usual rom-com fodder that could have made an adequate full-length Nancy Meyers movie (both Roberts and Bardem are old enough), but instead we’re served up a watered-down romance. I’m not giving anything away here (the title of the movie is the biggest plot spoiler), and it’s all so predictable you don’t have to be a genius to guess the ending. It’s befuddling why Glee creator Ryan Murphy, a superb television writer and director, chose to make this narcissistic fluff. It all looks gorgeous, and occasionally Roberts’ charisma charms us for a second or two, but pretty scenery and a beguiling actress are not enough to make this tiresome travelogue anything to write home about.