Westerners often fantasize about running off to a rustic but miraculously disease-free and simple-but-wise village to "find oneself." Liz Gilbert, the main character in Eat Pray Love (based on the best-selling memoir by Gilbert), disappears to no less than three exotic locales in an attempt to find peace, but she takes with her the selfishness that causes her troubles. As a travelogue, this beautifully shot film works very well. As a source of chick-lit wisdom, it falls flat.
The still-stunning Julia Roberts plays Gilbert, a New York-based travel writer whose dissatisfaction with life flows from a vague sense that she should feel better about things. Summarily divorcing her husband, who is besotted in love with her, she takes up with an equally enthralled young actor. Shortly, she tires of him as well and launches her journey of self-discovery.
Gilbert travels first to Italy to savor the foods, next to India to tarry at the meditation center of a Hindu guru, then to Bali to sit at the feet of a toothless shaman. At each gorgeous locale, she learns a postcard-worthy lesson (Enjoy doing nothing! God exists in me and is expressed by me! Dare to love!) but never changes. It doesn't matter in which religion Liz dabbles because from her perspective they become the same. They are all about Liz. She must forgive herself, learn to love herself, and even give herself permission to gain weight. At long last (and at more than two hours running time for this PG-13 film, I do mean long last), she must give herself permission to love the charming and giving man who, as any woman in the audience can see, is a catch (Javier Bardem).
The one thing she must never do is admit to herself that the trip, indeed her entire life, reeks of relentless self-indulgence. An unencumbered American woman, blessed with enough wealth and health to spend a year idly traveling the world, ought to be brimming with gratitude. Instead she uses the opportunity to rattle around in her empty soul, which would be better filled with actual love for another human or divine being.