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Eat Pray Love

An Over-Indulgent Travelogue

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Based on Elizabeth Gilbertís best-selling 2006 memoirs of a year abroad, Eat Pray Love is an overlong, unengaging, literal-minded exercise in self-indulgence and banality, an obvious vanity project for Julia Roberts and TV veteran Ryan Murphy, the writer-producer of Glee and Nip/Tuck.

For Roberts, Eat Pray Love confirms her turn away from the occasionally challenging role to soporific, safe roles aimed at a female audience. For Murphy, it confirms that his skills and talents are best put to use on TV; either that, or Murphy needs to select material better suited for cinematic adaptation (hint: travelogues masquerading as memoirs donít count).

Eat Pray Love focuses on a year in the life of writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Roberts). Despite success as a writer, a comfortable lifestyle, close friends, and a superficially stable marriage to Stephen (Billy Crudup), Gilbert is quietly, desperately unhappy with her marriage and her life in general.

After pushing for a divorce from Stephan, who fights a losing battle to save their marriage, she starts up a fraught, rebound relationship with David Piccolo (James Franco), a struggling, younger actor she meets at a performance of her work. When that fails, she makes the potentially life-changing decision to take a year off and travel to Italy, India, and Bali, a country she visited on an earlier magazine assignment.

In Italy, she over-indulges in the ďeatĒ part of her journey, quickly making fast friends with a Swedish woman, Sofi (Tuva Novotny), and attractive, upper-middle-class Italians. She learns Italian, and gorges on Italian food. Still hung up on her romantic failures, she remains single despite the availability of several men.

For the Italy segment, Murphy takes the food porn route, lingering on hunger-inducing close-ups of Italian delicacies. In India, she seeks spiritual enlightenment ó the ďprayĒ part of her journey ó from a guru (Gita Reddy), but instead finds a spiritual mentor in an irascible Texan, Richard (Richard Jenkins). In Bali, she apprentices herself to Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subiyanto), a seventh-generation medicine man. Ketut promises to teach her to find balance in her life between the sensual and the spiritual.

The end point of Gilbertís yearlong journey, the sensual/spiritual balance she spent a year looking for, racking up frequent flier miles, plus two hours and twenty minutes of running time, is exactly what youíd expect: another committed, long-term romantic relationship, this time to a sensitive Brazilian, Felipe (Javier Bardem), who is recovering from a devastating divorce of his own.

Is there any doubt sheís found her life partner? The question answers itself. Eat Pray Loveís message isnít not particularly profound, insightful, or even provocative, but Gilbertís readers who, presumably, will become moviegoers this weekend and next, obviously found something valuable in her memoirs. Whatever it was, assuming there was something beyond mere wish fulfillment, itís certainly not on screen.

Murphy and his screenwriting partner, Jennifer Salt, neuter Eat Pray Love of any emotional or character depth and dramatic conflict. Gilbertís dissatisfaction with her materially comfortable life, especially during the still ongoing Great Recession, feels shallow (because it is). The real Gilbert had a much messier life before she took her one-year trip abroad: She had an affair while she was still married, engaged in a messy three-year battle to divorce her husband, and received a $200,000 advance to write her memoirs ó all facts Murphy left out of the adaptation.

Murphy and Roberts give us an over-expensive travelogue, clumsy voice-over narration, and the personal journey of a self-centered character thatís everything except enlightening. That might be enough for readers of Gilbertís memoirs, but it wonít be for anyone else.