We'd heard mixed reviews of Eat Pray Love, but we were looking for something diverting last night, and figured: Julia Roberts, beautiful world travelogue, beautiful food, and some beautiful men (in that order) -- what's not to like? We were not disappointed and found the film thoroughly enjoyable. I had read the book, which is often a set-up for disappointment in the film. But I didn't go in expecting the film to be exactly like the book. While decorated by beautiful and exotic settings, the book is largely an internal journey which would be hard to translate into a visual medium. Nonetheless, I thought they did a really nice job. There was some amount of Liz the protagonist's voiceover (it would be impossible to make this film with none), but director/writer Ryan Murphy wasn't heavy-handed with it. He and co-writer Jennifer Salt did do a nice job adapting some of the book's great internal scenes. I particularly liked Liz's first attempt at meditating in the ashram, when her thoughts were totally scattered and even one minute of distracted meditation was exasperatingly slow. And the use of flashback and fantasy provided some lovely book-to-film translations such as the scene on the ashram roof when Liz "meets" and makes peace with her ex-husband. Of course in some dimensions, such as the beauty of the locations and the food, the film capitalized on the strength of visuals. A simple scene of Liz making eye-love to a simple but exquisite plate of spaghetti in a Roman café, with Mozart's Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute as soundtrack, was genius. As is inevitable, not every bit of the book can fit into a film, but I felt they stayed quite faithful to the book, and did their best to at least allude to memorable bits from the book. (One of my favorite chapters in the book is Liz attending an Italian football match and appreciating the Italian language in the stream of invective from the cheering and howling fans. It would be impossible, I think, to truly render that chapter on film, but they made a nice gesture to it, in a collage sequence interleaving scenes from fans at a soccer game with Liz and her friend trying on jeans that were a bit too tight.) It was also a pleasant surprise to find the casting so agreeable. To me, not a single character was discordant with how I had pictured them from the book, from James Franco as David, her rebound affair, down to Hadi Subiyanto as Ketut Liyer, an aged Balinese medicine man. Javier Bardem did a great job of bringing to screen such a complex character, who comes across as a bit of a playboy but who is actually a heart-broken divorcé and doting father. And Richard Jenkins did a brilliant turn as Richard in the ashram, a brusque Texan who kicks Liz's spiritual butt while becoming her best friend in India. (We remember him best from his outstanding lead role in The Visitor, though he's probably best known as the deceased father of the Fisher family in Six Feet Under.)
Sure, the film leaves out much of the more profound spiritual and emotional elements of the book, but there's only so much you can expect from a 2-hour movie, and there was a lot of ground to cover. Depth of emotional character development just wasn't going to fit. But as a romantic-comedy version of a journey of self-discovery set against a travelogue of beautiful places and exotic characters, we found it thoroughly enjoyable.