Casting a male lead opposite Julia Roberts is a tricky science. Her whole hey-look-at-me-I’m-a-movie-star persona has been best served in recent years next to subtle, low-key actors like Clive Owen and Aaron Eckhart. Strangely, when she’s up against someone equally as famous (Tom Hanks, or Brad Pitt for example), there’s a painfully noticeable absence of chemistry. With the news that Javier Bardem has signed on to play Roberts’ love interest in Eat, Pray Love (the adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling, travelogue-esque memoir), there is reason to be cautiously optimistic: Bardem can handle subtle. He is, after all, one of the best actors in the business.
That said, if you’re thinking a Roberts-Bardem pairing sounds odd and/or like a sign of the apocalypse, don’t fret: I’m right there with you. Picturing the two Oscar winners together is a headscratcher far more puzzling than figuring out the last movie Roberts was in that was a hit. (That’d be Erin Brockovich.The Ocean’s series doesn’t count since she had help from 7.6 other A-listers.) To be sure, Roberts can do romantic comedies in her sleep (she has, actually…it was called America’s Sweethearts) and Bardem terrifically showed his sultry side in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It’s the two of them together that’s the problem: The sexy Spaniard with the American motormouth. I just don’t buy it. Then again, Roberts looks nothing like Elizabeth Gilbert, so it seems like a suspension of belief will be required to get within 10 feet of this movie.
Speaking of the movie, with Ryan Murphy of Nip/Tuck and Glee at the helm and Bardem and Richard Jenkins on board for supporting roles, Eat, Pray Love actually does sound quite promising — the questionable casting aside. It is Roberts’ best opportunity yet to win audiences back after her absence and the depressing box office crash-and-burn of her quite-excellent thriller, Duplicity. For those of you who have read Gilbert’s book, what do you think of Bardem’s casting as Felipe: Inspired, or typical Hollywood glam-ification? Do you also share my anxiety at the prospect of seeing Anton Chigurh romance Pretty Woman?