A lush and indulgent travelogue crammed with quality actors, opulent vistas and comforting "I'm OK" homilies for the stressed-out American soul, Eat, Pray, Love is the best of a rather dubious genre. It's the type of movie where the heroine binges on fresh al dente pasta in Rome for the sheer, hedonistic joy of authentic living, then buys a slightly larger pair of jeans with her American Express card proudly pointed toward the camera.
The mantra of Elizabeth Gilbert's Oprah's Book Club bestseller seems to be "You can have it all without really giving up anything fun," and the film adaptation offers up huge comforting spoonfuls of travel porn, food porn and therapy, in such abundance that you'll fill on empty calories before digesting any nutritious bits.
Spiritualism and commercialism rub each other raw as uptight New Yorker Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) ditches both her husband (Billy Crudup) and new boyfriend (James Franco) for a year-long spiritual quest through Italy, India and Bali, and to write a book. Of course, the movie barely mentions that this costly trip was funded by a huge publisher's advance, one that no average girl would have access to. Details.
She stops first in Rome, where petite Liz enjoys an extended buona serra of boozing and eating. The food close-ups are straight from Saveur magazine, with loving close-ups of proscioutto and figs meant to induce drool. Really, the crews at the Food Network should almost be embarrassed, as a simple plate of pasta has never looked more delicious on film.
After relatively laid-back Italy, it's off to hectic Calcutta, where Liz wades hip-deep into fast-food spirituality at a swank ashram. There she runs smack into the film's most interesting male foil, a grizzled Texan philosopher played with laconic grace by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor). He charmingly calls her "groceries" for the way she can polish off a plate of food, and he's another member of the sad divorcee club, and he gently berates Liz daily until breaking down and telling the sob story of how he drank away happiness.
Liz keeps on jet-setting, off to exotic Bali, where a toothless medicine man-huckster reads her palm and tells her to seek balance, when she's not busy striking beatific yoga poses as the camera spins around her to reveal lush countryside and honeyed ocean sunsets. You'll regularly find more profundity on the Travel Channel. Luckily, Javier Bardem is there to straighten her out with his soulful eyes and tender kisses.
Eat, Pray, Love is fairly enjoyable due to actors and settings, but it's a dummy's guide to enlightenment, and as cinema it's How Stella Got Her Groove Back sponsored by Expedia.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].
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