The Julia Roberts vehicle, Eat Pray Love (2010) is a bad film. This has been acknowledged universally. Now, the question is why and how, especially when the book, on which the film is based, was a bestseller?
In short, the film is a classic picaresque plot in which the central character moves from place to place, from issues to issues, from people to people. Elizabeth Gilbert dumps her husband in the US, have an affair with James Franco, goes to Italy to eat, to India to pray and to Bali to find love, which she actually does, and it gives the film an happily-ever-after ending — all these within less than two hours.
Since a picaresque plot doesn’t have a conventional plot in terms of beginning, middle and end, it relies on three important aspects: 1) A well-etched, well-rounded protagonist whom the reader/audience can believe and trust, somebody who is interesting and who invites us to invest our emotions to his/her fate. 2) Other interesting characters, episodes, events that the protagonist meets on the way. 3) Change. The protagonists, and also the minor characters he/she meets on the way should change on the course of the tale.
In EPL, the Julia Roberts character is neither very interesting nor likeable, and when the character is played by Julia Roberts, it’s saying a lot. She was once American’s sweetheart, remember? In the film, she’s supposed to be writer, but she’s very mediocre, in every sense, and in the Eat section, she acts like a glutton. Eating is an art, gorging isn’t.
And the characters she meets are equally uninteresting, barring perhaps Richard from Texas, played with a rare dignity by Richard Jenkins, and in bits, the Xavier Bardem character, before he falls in love with protagonist.
Now, about the Indian section. (I remember how it made news when Roberts was in India shooting for the film, but not as much when Angelina Jolie was in Pune shooting for A Mighty Heart.) There’s is nothing in the film that’s not a cliché — you have the ashrams, gods and spirituality, poverty, a big, fat Indian wedding, and of course, elephants. (I remember my friend, an IT-type, one day went to the airport to receive a client of his from Amsterdam. The client meets him, exchanges pleasantries and asks: “Where can I get an elephant ride?” Indian is after all a country of elephants and tigers. Of course, why not!)
The picaresque novel (Spanish: "picaresca", from "pícaro", for "rogue" or "rascal") is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. This style of novel originated in sixteenth century Spain and flourished throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It continues to influence modern literature. (from Wikipedia.)