I took my (admittedly late) summer vacation last week and figured I bring with me the book that most screamed “beach book” with me. My choice: “Eat Pray Love,” a story of a woman who goes on a yearlong trip of self-discovery and religious fulfillment to Italy, India and Bali.
The memoir, published in 2006, was written by Elizabeth Gilbert, who traveled the globe in an effort to find peace with herself after a messy divorce and a passionate and destructive follow-up relationship. The book goes over what she experienced and learned from a journey of indulgence and fascination while learning a new language in Rome, of meditation and finding God at an ashram in India, and of finding balance in her life with a medicine man in Indonesia, and finding new love there, as well.
The popular success of the book led to a film adaptation, starring Julia Roberts and released in 2010. The movie contains a decent amount of recognizable actors: Viola Davis plays Liz’s friend from back home in New York, James Franco is her flame after she leaves her husband, and Javier Bardem plays the boyfriend she meets in Bali.
As might be expected with a memoir, the movie takes a few liberties with Gilbert’s original story. A lot of characters are condensed for brevity’s sake (although the movie still has a run time of 2:13), and a lot of events Gilbert expands on are cut out or shown through montage only. The end of the movie brings about more conflict in Liz opening the door for her relationship with Felipe (Bardem), giving the film a more traditional cinematic feel for an ending.
Strange that the filmmakers would choose to go this route, especially considering the book feels like a movie script to begin with. The story is written more like a crafted story than an account of a real-life story, partly because of how everything seems to fall into place in the end for the main character. The movie lays the events told in the book in strictly chronological order, even including the parts leading up to Liz’s yearlong trip around the world. In the books, those segments are interspersed throughout the first part of the book, thereby getting the reader right into the heart of the trip and not bogging down with backstory right away.
While a lot of the advice dolled out in both versions of the story seem like a lot of problems of privilege, the book at least occasionally offers some sound words on letting go of the past and seeking spiritual peace. The movie feels through and through like just that — a movie that takes up more than 2 hours of much of the same content. It also glosses over some of the less harmonious portions of the memoir. When Liz raises money to buy a house for a friend she makes in Bali, the book talks about how her friend at first tried to gain even more money and a bigger house out of pity. The movie goes right to her decorating the interior without any other conflict.
While I can’t say I’m a fan of either, I can at least appreciate what the book was trying to offer its readers. The film, on the other hand, felt more like a chore than a yearlong adventure.