August 19, 2010

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Eat Pray Love (PG-13)
Julia Roberts travels the world fulfilling your escapist fantasies in Eat Pray Love, a movie based on the memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Liz Gilbert (Roberts) is unhappily married to Stephen (Billy Crudup). She is a travel writer who loves the road; he (it’s insinuated) wants a family or at the very least something different from the current state of their life. She leaves him and falls into a poorly thought out relationship with actor David (James Franco). When she sees that situation for the quagmire it is, she tells her friend and editor Delia (Viola Davis) that she wants to get her zest for life back and do it traveling the world: Italy, where she’ll eat and experience pleasure, India, where she’ll pray at the Ashram of a guru David introduced her to, and then Bali, where she’ll talk with Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto), a wise man who can help her find balance.

Italy is all pasta and fried bits of golden tastiness that steal the screen. India doesn’t exactly get that golden glow treatment but we do get a lovely, flower-petal-covered wedding. Bali looks like your most dramatic mid-winter fever-dream of a tropical locale and it’s the place where Javier Bardem, playing lusty Brazilian Felipe, comes into the picture.

Eat Pray Love is, at its core, a rather dopey movie that unfolds clunkily and feels like an ice cream sundae that is mostly chocolate and whipped cream. But it is kind of a relief to watch a grown woman play a grown woman in a movie that features lovely food, heavenly scenery and a bit of romance. Roberts is 42 and looks 42 — the stunning, glorious 42 that you can be with enough money and people to dress you and make your hair do the right things, but 42 nonetheless. It feels like a cool glass of water on a hot day to watch her be chummy with her similar-aged friend played by Viola Davis (who, do I even need to say it, is awesome but is on screen not nearly enough).

The requirement that all women in movies, even smartish-seeming ones, behave as though they are 16 years old when it comes to matters of love and life plans has become oppressive, like an itchy, stinky wool blanket thrown over all these lighter-than-air bits of romantic fluffiness movies present us with. I won’t be holding any book club nights for this movie (which didn’t increase one bit my desire to read its source book) but I had a kind of uplifted feeling while watching it, from Roberts’ lack of cutesiness and the ease with which she simply exists. It is the exact opposite of the feeling I got watching the ladies of Sex and the City cram themselves into some distorted version of “youthfulness.” And while I didn’t love this movie any more, I like that it is mostly populated by believable humans. C

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity. Directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Murphy and Jennifer Salt (from the book by Elizabeth Gilbert), Eat Pray Love is two hours and 13 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.