juliaroberts.jpgEat Pray love is either better or worse than I expected. Like a wine that cannot be technically faulted, yet fails to engage the senses, this film seems to lack any distinction.

What it does have is a few fleeting glimpses of a potentially great actress struggling to break out of her contemporary, aging babe, Pretty Woman strait (sic) jacket. So frustrating, this one. The film is somehow packed to the hilt with clich̩s Рwise little brown people, ex-pats finding each other and eating, dancing and drinking with gusto, peasant women disapproving of single women Рyet also misses rich opportunities to bombard us with Hallmark moments.

St. Peter’s dome by sunset – a perfect all-purpose establishing shot that tells us we, and Liz Gilbert (the author/protagonist), are in Rome. You can practically smell the garlic and taste the wine. Yet we don’t get many glamor shots of the Eternal City. Instead we submit to silly new friends bonding episodes — so much so that between Roberts’ pleading eyes and wide mouth (lips endlessly pursing and laughing, pursing and laughing) in so many candlelit soft focus interiors, we feel absolutely claustrophobic.

Ditto in India, where the pre-dawn chanting sessions provide no insight whatever into the “pray” part of the film’s (book’s) title.

A splendid Richard Jenkins, as Roberts’ platonic ashram buddy, almost spins emotional gold out of his role as a big-hearted Texan who’s come to purge his demons and find self-forgiveness (Cf. John Locke of “Lost”), almost. But an utter lack of directorial savvy allows his big confessional scene to descend into soap opera banality.

Finally in Bali, where Roberts just happens to rent a luxurious dream cottage for cheap (just like in real life, right?) and re-connects with her old, toothless, small, dark shaman, we find the “love” part in the magnetic form of Javier Bardem – a delicious young Anthony Quinn from some angles, at others, a lost masterpiece by Caravaggio.

Is there chemistry, however, between these two attractive movie stars? Not one drop.
We can forgive that because Bardem is so earthily appealing that even the wallpaper would kill for one night with him.

But wait a minute, whoa. Don’t tell me that the end of all Liz’ “searching” (if struggling to order dinner in perfect Italian can be called a ‘search’) is only to find Mr. Right? Yes, and almost yes.

If there’s any female left who has not seen this film, I will stop short of giving away the slippery ending. But let’s just say it’s a case of one trivial gender stereotype winning out, thanks to another trivial racial stereotype. How sad. Men can find fulfillment in adventure, discovery, invention, creative practice, but women are stuck with babies, pasta and men. I’m not knocking those three possibilities, simply yearning for a few more options.

Here’s why the movie was really made. The obviously irritated Julia Roberts had agreed a few years ago when pressured by her Oceans Eleven buddy/co-star Brad Pitt, that yes, she would star in his latest producing venture. Well Pitt was Eat Pray Love‘s co-producer, and so it got made.