[Screen It]

(2010) (Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem) (PG-13)

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Drama: A recently divorced woman tries to find herself and happiness while traveling abroad for a year.
Liz Gilbert (JULIA ROBERTS) is a magazine writer who, after interviewing Ketut (HADI SUBIYANTO), a seventh generation medicine man in Bali, has decided she no longer wants to be married to Stephen (BILLY CRUDUP) and begins the divorce proceedings. While she gets support from her best friend, Delia (VIOLA DAVIS), and her husband, Andy (MIKE O'MALLEY), and has a brief fling with younger stage actor David (JAMES FRANCO), Liz still isn't happy about herself or her life.

Accordingly, she sets out on a year-long, around the globe journey of self-rediscovery. She starts in Italy where, with her new friend Sofi (TUVA NOVOTNY), their Italian language tutor, Giovanni (LUCA ARGENTERO), and his friend, Luca Spaghetti (GIUSEPPE GANDINI), she tries to get back her appetite for life starting with her appetite for food.

Following four months of that she's off to Calcutta to find her spirituality by living and working in a guru's compound where she meets 17-year-old Tulsi (RUSHITA SINGH) who's dejected about her pending arranged marriage, as well as American Richard (RICHARD JENKINS) who gives Liz something of a hard time along with lots of advice, but is harboring his own struggles with personal demons from his past.

That's followed by a return trip to Bali to work for Ketut. There, she not only meets a local physician, Wayan (CHRISTINE HAKIM), with her own past domestic issues, but also the ruggedly handsome Felipe (JAVIER BARDEM), an importer/exporter who finds himself smitten with her. But before she can allow herself to fall in love again, she's determined to find balance and happiness in her life and overcome nagging memories and emotions that stand in her way.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
One of the more fun, imaginative and critically lauded TV shows of the past year has been "Glee," the musical comedy drama that writer/director/producer Ryan Murphy created and delivered to Fox. Focusing on a high school glee/choir club, the show is filled with covers of show tunes and popular hits of the past and present.

It's quite fun, always lively and nothing short of highly entertaining. Murphy, along with co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, reportedly originally intended the work as a feature film, but it clearly benefits from the opportunities its current medium provides it.

It's hard to say if Murphy's most recent offering would have worked better as a TV series, but the words "fun," "lively" and "highly entertaining" probably won't be bantered around as much regarding one's reaction to "Eat Pray Love." And that's because his sophomore big screen follow-up to 2006's "Running With Scissors" is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia." That work focused on the author trying to find herself on a year-long, around the world journey of, natch, eating, praying and loving following a painful divorce.

Granted, that's not exactly fodder for rousing musical numbers (although, if you really think about it...but I digress), and there's certainly nothing wrong with working in other genres. It's just that the resultant work feels way too long (at around 133 minutes), too obvious in its various life lessons and messages (via voice-over narration from lead actress Julia Roberts, other characters' dialogue and their life stories, etc.), and ultimately too boring to hold the interest of any but the most ardent fans of the book and/or "chick flick" fodder.

That's not to say that its intentions (of showing or, in this case, telling people how to find balance and happiness in their lives) are bad, or that Murphy doesn't try his best to infuse as much directorial creativity as possible (in terms of shot selection, editing and such) into the material.

There are more scene & shot cuts as well as moments of camera movement than one would expect for a film of this genre and caliber, not to mention enough views of various types of food and vistas that the film will probably end up playing endlessly some day on the likes of The Travel Channel, The Food Network and any number of cable channels where the material is primarily targeted at women.

The filmmaker also occasionally dabbles in jumping around in time, albeit only in terms of real or modified flashbacks rather than actual non-linear storytelling. But as memories of the past occasionally pop up to haunt Roberts' character, one nearly gets the feeling that we're headed into "Inception" territory (albeit, alas, without Leo and company delving and diving further and further into her subconsciousness). At least that might have helped explain her mid-life funk, but without that knowledge, the actress can only bring so much good-will to the otherwise somewhat unlikable character.

The work that will more obviously come to mind, however, is "Under the Tuscan Sun," the 2003 film (based on the 1996 memoir of the same name) where Diane Lane also played a writer who also got divorced and also moved to Italy to rediscover and reconnect with herself. Granted, the Italian segment of this film is just the first of three travelogue segments, but the underlying similarities between the two works are hard to dismiss.

The same can be said for all of the obvious wisdom and motivational bits offered by the various characters Liz Gilbert knows and then meets on her journey of self-rediscovery. Following her divorce (Billy Crudup plays her husband), support from her best friend (Viola Davis) and a brief fling with a younger actor (James Franco), she heads into the first titular segment of the story where she eats her way through Italy with her new friend (Tuva Novotny). The various shots of all of the sumptuous food (even including a traditional American Thanksgiving meal) is pretty much food porn, and thus foodies and those who prefer the lighter side of entertainment will enjoy this part of the film the best.

That's followed by a segue into the second leg that takes place in Calcutta where Liz befriends a 17-year-old Indian girl (Rushita Singh) who's unhappy about her pending arranged marriage while also learning there's more than meets the eye with the initially brash and annoying American (Richard Jenkins) who's also trying to find spirituality via the local guru. This section is decidedly more somber, but hits some decent emotional notes in the process.

All of which leads to a trip back to Bali for the third chapter where Liz reconnects with a seventh generation medicine man (a cute Hadi Subiyanto), meets a local doctor (Christine Hakim) with her own troubled domestic past, and unintentionally ends up falling for the ruggedly handsome importer/exporter played by Javier Bardem (thankfully it's not Jason Alexander as Art Vandelay). Despite them making an attractive couple, the sparks don't really fly and the film simply bogs down in the final chapter. That, and the fact that the advice, wisdom and such continue to pile on eventually makes one yearn for the story to conclude.

When it finally does, one's left with the impression that a journey has taken place with lots of pictures of yummy food and exotic locales, but not as much depth as intended behind them. I'm sure the film will have its share of fans, and it's certainly far from horrible. It's just that while it's pretty to behold, it's pretty slow and laborious as it goes through its motions. In short, it probably should have been titled "Eat Pray Love Sleep" as it becomes increasingly difficult to fight off the latter while watching it. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 10, 2010 / Posted August 13, 2010

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