Eat Pray Love: Watch Enjoy Reflect

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925419 - EAT PRAY LOVE

By Matt Brunson

EAT PRAY LOVE

***1/2

DIRECTED BY Ryan Murphy

STARS Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem

Just for the record, not all porn flicks are of the X-rated variety. More palatable for mass consumption are the films that qualify as "food porn," works that show off delectable dishes in all their mouthwatering glory (e.g. Babette's Feast, Julie & Julia). Then there's the "travel porn" branch, efforts that offer postcard perfection and entice moviegoers to blow their savings on airfare and overseas accommodations (Out of Africa, Under the Tuscan Sun).

With trips to Italy, India and Bali, Eat Pray Love easily qualifies as travel porn, and the first third of its title promises a fair amount of food porn as well. But whereas these labels often prove to be a superficial picture's whole reason for being, more complex movies use them as mere window dressing on a story that's already involving down to its core. Eat Pray Love, an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of the same name, joins the aforementioned pictures in this distinguished class.

I haven't read Gilbert's book, and it's entirely possible that, in comparison, the film version seems about as complicated as an episode of Dora the Explorer. But on its own, this is a richly rewarding experience, following one woman's journey both across the globe and within herself. Julia Roberts delivers her strongest performance since Erin Brockovich a full decade ago — as Liz Gilbert, she brings to the forefront the doubts, frustrations and longings inherent in a woman who soon realizes that she's not content with her marriage or with her surroundings and elects to set out on new adventures. Liz finds both spiritual and physical nourishment during her travels, but her lessons aren't conveyed to us in the usual cookie-cutter platitudes; instead, the dialogue is frequently lyrical and lovely, never cheapening the thoughts or feelings being revealed.

In a summer dominated (as always) by male-skewering titles (everything from Sandler to Stallone), Eat Pray Love is certain to get dismissed in some quarters as Sex and the City 2's sister in failed counter programming. But with its themes of self-discovery and its impressive roster of award-caliber actors (Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis), it's actually an intelligent movie for discerning grownups who wouldn't be caught dead seeing Grown Ups.

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