Thursday, April 7, 2011

Morning Glory vs. Eat Pray Love--Round 2

In my previous post, I discussed the mishap that was "Morning Glory" in the battle of 2010's big-deal chick flicks. Today, we focus on "Eat Pray Love" starring Julia Roberts and lush international scenery. Who wins the battle? Let's find out.

The memoir "Eat Pray Love" first came to my attention when I worked at Borders. The book was a giantic hit based solely on a clientele of thirtysomething women who had fond memories of spending a semester abroad. Seriously, though, author Elizabeth Gilbert tapped into the neuroses of the modern woman. Was it worth really having it all? And what was "all"?

Why am I writing like Carrie Bradshaw? Wow, I really am becoming domesticated.

The movie adaptation stars Julia Roberts--still with the fiery mane, still with the poolroom laugh--as Gilbert, a travel writer who reaches a personal crisis. She's married to an aimless hunk and lives in a lovely home, but her life feels false. So, she leaves everything behind and heads off for a year of solitary, overseas travel. She eats her way through Italy, finds her spirituality in India, and falls in love in Bali.

Directed by Ryan Murphy of "Glee" fame, "Eat Pray Love" is like drinking a cup of chamomile tea for two-plus hours. Those who have read Gilbert's book--um, my fiancee--say it's very introspective. That gets lost here, with the scenery (lovingly captured by noted cinematographer Robert Richardson)and speeches serving as Gilbert's catharsis. It's an understandable tactic--hell, even I don't want to see Julia Roberts existentially mope for 120 minutes--but the whole experience is a little hollow.

Roberts, though charming and smiley and serviceable, doesn't help matters. She's a brand name, and with that comes a certain set of expectations--namely, nothing bad can happen to Julia Roberts nor can she demonstrate a touch of evil. Your grandparents like her, for crissakes. (This is why Maggie Gyllenhaal or Michelle Williams would have been perfect, but they don't have Roberts's box-office glow.) So Elizabeth can't leave her husband because she's bored; the screenwriters have to paint him as a petulant, immature flake. The cherry on top is the husband is played by Billy Crudup, who is still loathed for dumping a pregnant Mary-Louise Parker for Claire Danes.

But, hey, Roberts finds romance with James Franco--in a subplot that should have been cut to ribbons--and an impressive Javier Bardem, who eases off the intensity and ups the charm as Gilbert's romantic salvation.

The best performance comes from Richard Jenkins, who plays a Texan Gilbert meets in India, because he comes attached with no preconceived ideas. He just acts his ass off, and it's a glorious example of why the man will work forever: Jenkins gives you something different every single time.

Too bad the movie couldn't have been about him. At least it wouldn't have been so bloody predictable. But at least it's watchable, which I can't say for "Morning Glory."

Final decision: "Eat Pray Love" by KO.

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