Book vs. Movie: 'Eat Pray Love'

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It would be hard to imagine a starker choice for moviegoers this weekend: a night out with the aging action heroes in The Expendables or a pleasant evening spent globetrotting with Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love. If you chose the latter, there's a good chance you're one of the millions who read the Elizabeth Gilbert bestseller in paperback. And you would hope the film version—full of lush cinematography and mouthwatering international cuisine—can live up to the second-chance fantasy's reputation with its legions of fans. In parsing critical opinions, the Wire gave particular notice to some essential reviewers: those, that is, who appear to have read the book.

  • It's Missing Gilbert's Internal Monologue points out Joe Morgenstern at The Wall Street Journal. The book's "good observer with a lively mind, has turned into the extravagantly external—glossy cinematography by Robert Richardson—and cloyingly earnest quest of a woman in deep distress." While "lesser" literary discoveries translate well on screen (picture:"flakes of parmesan cheese fall like slo-mo snow on a bed of spaghetti carbonara"), the film ultimately becomes a "reliable formula of self-worth achieved through self-acceptance."
  • Who Cares Why Liz Is Eating, Praying and Loving? writes Dezhda Gaubert at E! Online. The changes to the book "ironically, water down the plot instead of bring it into focus. There's no clear inciting incident that launches Liz's nervous breakdown (indeed, in the movie she doesn't even have one), thus the stakes are low —certainly not enough to send a woman off on a yearlong trip to foreign lands." Also the movie has a way of making Liz's problems "not seem so terrible, and you're not entertained by her character."
  • Captures the Heart of the Book but "never quite get[s] a handle on its soul: the deep, spiritual emptiness that sends Liz searching in the first place," concludes Elizabeth Weitzman at The New York Daily News. One way that the film manages to miss the soul is the casting of it's lead: "As it turns out, though, a lesser star may have been a better choice.  [Director Ryan] Murphy appears so awed by Roberts that he encourages her to glide through the film like the icon she is, literally shining a golden halo of light around her wherever she goes." 
  • The Film Is Almost Too Dutiful to the bestseller, observes Liza Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who echoes a complaint all too familiar for book-to-movie adaptations: "the very nature of movies — images come to life, words spoken out loud — is antithetical to Gilbert's distinctive literary style, with words passed privately, silently, between the writer and her reader."
  • There Are Plenty of Discrepancies (Spoiler Alert) between the book and the movie, and Allyssa Lee at Moviefone outlines them for readers/viewers to compare. First is the personification of Gilbert's ex by actor Billy Crudup, who fleshes out the character as a cantankerous mismatch, but in the book remains mostly an abstraction. Other tweaks to the movie version include condensing her wide-ranging group of friends, displaying more trust issues in her relationship to Felipe (Javier Bardem) and a time-table shift for the emotional climax of the film (when she joins Felipe on the boat).

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.