Saturday, August 14, 2010

Self-absorption never overwhelms gorgeously shot "Eat Pray Love"

Eat Pray Love (2010) 
133 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B -

Maybe not the most logical path toward enlightenment, but food, meditation, and kisses never looked so appealing. "Eat Pray Love," based on New York travel writer Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of appreciation of life, adventure, and self-discovery, isn't so much “Me Me Me” with Julia Roberts around. 

After realizing she's lost the zest in her life after a painful divorce (with Billy Crudup) and a rebound relationship with a charming young actor (James Franco), the restless and dissatisfied Liz ships off on a yearlong odyssey to find her inner balance. Four months each, she stops in Rome (rekindling her appetite for Italian cuisine and wine without calorie counts), India (praying at the ashram of a guru and petting elephants), and Bali (love with an attractive Brazilian divorcee played by Javier Bardem). So call it “Chicken Soup for the Narcissist's Soul” or identify with Gilbert's solitariness, Roberts doesn't make the protagonist overly self-absorbed because she's one of the most engaging and naturally likable Hollywood sweethearts; instead we envy Gilbert and it's a winning performance. 

TV veteran Ryan Murphy shoots "Eat Pray Love" with sensitive, easygoing direction, inviting us on a beautiful travelogue of authentic and eye-filling locations. Flowing at a breezy pace, the film captures Gilbert's moments of sorrow, joy, and wry humor. The Italy section is the most enjoyable: A lot of mouth-watering food porn, letting us in on the delicious delights of Roberts twirling noodles with her fork and slurping them down with her perfect teeth, as well as a whole pie of pizza. Yum! 

Murphy and Jennifer Salt's script sprinkles Gilbert's truism-filled prose into her voice-over, although they never make satisfactory reason for why she's so unhappy with her former loves that would've benefited from more context and urgency. No matter, this is the first movie in a long while to give us such an independent, free-thinking heroine and not set feminism back four decades. We learn you don't have to love a man to love yourself, even though Liz does finally check 'love' off the list. Character actor Richard Jenkins gives a tender performance as a wise hippie Texan, whose grim story that brought him to India (shot in a single long take) moves us more than Liz's navel-gazing herself. 

Though an often draggy, verbose escape, "Eat Pray Love" will satisfy those in need of an indulgent vacation—and what nice company it is with a pretty woman like our Julia. She is a real movie star.

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