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Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010

Eat Pray Love

Julia Roberts Travels the World

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For many of us, Manhattan’s tree-lined side streets offer a romantic ideal of urban life, but for the protagonist of Eat Pray Love, familiarity breeds banality. The change of scene demanded by Liz (Julia Roberts) is triggered by the realization that she had married the wrong man, a well-meaning ne’er-do-well (Billy Crudup), yet she seems to have been restless all her life. Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, Eat Pray Love wants to be a journey of discovery, even a story of self-affirmation by a woman in a world where men still seem to be having most of the fun. And those themes are sounded like minor-key grace notes in a symphony of sunshine. As a film, Eat Pray Love is a nicely constructed two hours of escape from the humdrum to places where mostly beautiful, always sophisticated people congregate in settings to die for.

Some fans of Gilbert’s memoir have already weighed in that the book was better, but the book doesn’t have Julia Roberts, her shy smile as radiant as the sunrise and her charisma adding a honied glow to every mouthwatering scene in the outdoor cafes of Rome, where Vespas clatter by on the cobblestone roads, just as in every traveler’s fantasy.

Rome becomes Liz’s place to trade the life-denying Anglo-Saxon work ethic for the Italian sweetness of doing nothing—if nothing is defined as ordering wonderful food in a language whose sounds are music and gestures are the sweep of the conductor’s baton. On then to noisy, crowded India to get spiritual. Liz finds a zone of peace in an ashram where she bends to the discipline of scrubbing the hard marble floors and sitting still for hours of meditation, which teaches her to choose her thoughts rather than let the world choose them for her. And what would a world tour be without Bali, the emerald gem of the East Indies? As a kindly, wizened Hindu teaches her to balance body and soul, she encounters a suave Brazilian coffee trader (Javier Bardem) who gives her a chance to put her body back in action.

It’s all a series of sumptuous Travel Channel scenery, but face it: Who wouldn’t want to spend a year in those places, especially in the charming company of Julia Roberts? Eat Pray Dream should be the title of this film adaptation.

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