Who's In It: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Viola Davis, Richard Jenkins
The Basics: Julia Roberts is a successful Manhattan book author who divorces her husband (a heartbreakingly good Billy Crudup) in the name of finding her bliss. Dating a much younger actor (James Franco) doesn't do it, so she does what most spiritually bankrupt people can't actually afford to do in real life: she spends a year traveling the world learning sage advice from adorable brown people. Well, first she stops off in Italy, where she eats her weight in pasta and learns to enjoy life. Then it's off to India to meditate and Bali to "learn" under the tutelage of a local wise man, where she really spends her time shtupping Javier Bardem's equally damaged but much more mature divorcé. And wouldn't you know it, after all of that Javier Bardem sex she finally finds happiness! Bliss, therefore, is having sex with Javier Bardem. Penelope Cruz must be the happiest woman on earth. Based on a true story.
What's the Deal: As far as self-congratulatory, female-centric romantic fantasies go, Eat Pray Love takes the cake -- and the spaghetti, the cheese-stuffed squash blossoms, and the endless goblets of vino. Sure, the location photography is gorgeous, as are the golden rays of privilege that director Ryan Murphy lights his well-tressed star in at all times. And oh, the food porn! Alas, Murphy fails to correct the key flaws in his and Jennifer Salt's script, which very well might come straight from Gilbert's own bestselling memoirs: namely, that Roberts' character is an unlikeable, selfish person who spends most of her time whining and appropriating the spiritual practices of other cultures instead of doing any actual growing on her own. Heaven help the women who flock to this movie in search of guidance.
Admittedly Pleasurable Moments: Mouth-watering montages of heaping plates of pasta, devoured by the mouthful by Roberts and her Pretty Woman lips. The stunning location photography shot in Rome, India, and Bali. The fleeting suggestion that someone like Julia Roberts could ever develop a muffin top. The temptation of giving into the idea of "the sweetness of doing nothing," which according to the movie is why Italians are much lazier and happier than Americans. The poetry that is watching Javier Bardem cry, which elicited audible oohs and aahs from the ladies in the audience at my screening.
Why Eat Pray Love Is Really Some Kind Of Evil: Its main character learns nothing, but it preaches all the wrong things to its audience nonetheless. The whole film is one emotional manipulation after another, setting us up from the start to be on Roberts's side even as she cuts a swath of broken hearts and wrecked relationships in her wake. Instead of apologizing to the people she's hurt, she's instructed merely to forgive herself. Instead of staying single and independent, she's encouraged to get her man in order to get that happy Hollywood ending. Like a lot of horrid modern women's movies (He's Just Not That Into You, Sex and the City), Eat Pray Love only superficially advocates independence and growth while serving up a steaming pile of pseudo-spiritual hyperbole.
There Are More Moments Of Genuine Emotional Growth And Unselfish Acts In: The Expendables. And way more exploding heads. By my tally, this makes it Expendables: 1, Eat Pray Love: 0.