Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity, 133 minutes
Go find yourself with Julia in "Eat Pray Love"
I must admit I've had a years-long love affair with Julia Roberts, in my mind at least. I've seen all her films, even the bad ones ("Valentine's Day" comes to mind) just so I could melt every time she smiles. She's as radiant as ever and commands the screen in her new romantic dramedy "Eat Pray Love," based on the 2006 Elizabeth Gilbert memoir about one woman's year-long global quest to find herself. Handsomely filmed but overlong and superficial, a glowing Roberts performance is the best thing about this watered-down female spiritual travelogue.
Roberts is Liz Gilbert, a successful New York writer with a seemingly happily marriage to Stephen (Billy Crudup). She realizes she's woefully unhappy in the relationship, and initiates a divorces, which Stephen contests. She enters into an affair with a younger actor (James Franco) but that doesn't provide happiness, either. She realizes she needs some time off to find herself, so she takes year off, spending four months in Italy enjoying fine cuisine (eat), then off to India for another four months to find her spirituality (pray), followed by four months in Bali to find balance (love).
"Eat Pray Love" is an ambitious epic chick flick, striving to conquer some serious themes of love, balance and spirituality, among other things. But the enjoyable film only skims the surface and takes far too long to get there. Roberts, the big movie star she is, gives an irresistible and exuberant performance that helps the film, directed and co-written by "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy, glide through its longer stretches. She makes Gilbert's journey palpable, even if doesn't achieve as much deep emotional connection as it strives for. Of the three sections, the lovely Bali section is the best overall, with the romance between Roberts and Javier Bardem (in a sensitive turn for the Oscar-winning actor) one of the highlights of the film.
Along the way, there are some fine supporting actors who help Julia's character in her jaunt of self-discovery. Billy Crudup is affecting as the ex-husband who won't give in; Viola Davis is memorable as the apprehensive best friend; Richard Jenkins is especially strong as the Texan she meets (and who calls her "Groceries" for all the food she eats) in India also trying to overcome some hurt, and a warm turn by unknown Indonesian actress Christine Hakim as a healer she befriends and helps in Bali. However, Franco's part is the weakest of all the characters, in a very brief, empty role that advances the story very little.
As befits the title, Julia does plenty of eating, praying, loving and of course flashing that movie star grin that still melts even the coldest of hearts. She has fun, but what exactly does she accomplish in the end? And why does it take over two hours for it to unfold? Also, there's not much here that's really earth-shattering. The spiritual practices used in the film - praying, chanting and meditating - are nothing new, and eating is something that is done quite well right here in the U.S.
"Eat Pray Love" is filled with some entertaining moments (food can be that way) that will most appeal to women who long for self-discovery, and particularly wealthy ones such as Gilbert who can trek across the globe for a year to do so. To each his own. If it helps someone find genuine balance in life, then so be it. In the end, Roberts' effervescence and utter charm remain intact and my love affair with her continues. With that in mind, men may find this tolerable only because of Roberts, women should enjoy every minute of it.