The smile and acting ability are still firmly in place and there are reminders of why Roberts became one of the biggest female film stars in the world.
Liz Gilbert (Roberts), bitterly unhappy with her perfect life, decides that enough is almost certainly just too much and files for divorce from her spectacularly self absorbed husband – Stephen (Crudup).
Struggling with the decision, Gilbert uses the support of her friends to pull her through, but ultimately appears even more lost than when she was married.
Deciding she needs time away to find her “balance” she travels to Italy, India and finally Bali on a journey of “self discovery”.
It is made very clear that following her divorce settlement, she loses everything. Quite how this year long trip is then financed, receives scant mention other than beautiful idyllic villas are cheap in Bali, “due to the bombing”.
Roberts and all the supporting actors notably Javier Bardem, James Franco and Richard Jenkins are effective but the story is where the tale singularly refuses to catch fire.
Based on the best selling novel of the same name by Gilbert, what appeared in print as an authors heartfelt journey to find herself, through a cathartic writing experience, here somehow translates into a self indulgent odyssey through over eating, comic meditation & “Karate Kid” style Balinesque soothsaying.
Many people in the world get divorced and go through unimaginable heartbreak, most of them have to get up the next day and go to work or look after their kids. Many might think that jet setting around the world might be an attractive option but do not have the resource or time to do so.
Having spent much of the film suggesting she can function very well without a man, suddenly, well you probably get the picture by now. Although the final few scenes might have many shouting at the screen asking exactly “what do you want?”.
There is much to like, Bardem in particular looks and sounds the part, his relationship with his son is well played and early suitor Franco, looks and feels suitably tortured. A stand out scene from Jenkins gives him a chance to really exercise his acting chops.
Director Ryan Murphy, strives very hard not to present locally costumed Julia Roberts in photogenic Rome, locally costumed Julia Roberts in photogenic India and so on. Choosing to try to relate the story to real life emotion and situations. This is a classic and simple tale, do you really believe we take all our problems with us however far we run or can we only get perspective when we are away.
However, by the time we get to India all pretense is cast away and movie cliche’s run amok. Certainly, India is a mighty big place for one stray “on the loose” ceremonial elephant to choose that moment to be petted by a global film star. Audiences are inconveniently left to suspend belief to breaking point or mumble audible “ah’s” at the screen, dependant on your ambient level of cynicism.
The reviewer is not the target audience but box office does suggest that the film did connect with viewers in some way. However, such a story is perhaps best suited to the printed page where you can experience the story within your own imagination, rather than selected film images being placed in your mind, however carefully.
Undeniably well acted and photogenic but loses focus after a while, a film where you might want to shout at the screen but not in a good way.
Cautiously recommended for Roberts fans, travelogue lovers and anyone recently divorced hoping there really might be an easier option, if only they had the time, resources and circle of friends to support them.