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'Love' makes its marketing

Published September 03. 2010 05:00PM

There's something patently false about "Eat Pray Love."

And it's not just the missing commas in the transition from the covers of the 9-million copies sold of Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia," to the big screen film adaptation starring Julia Roberts as the globe-trotting, bed-hopping, and chow-downing author.

The false notes are not in Roberts' performance, which is quite beguiling, especially given that she's onscreen for what seems like 90 percent of this self-indulgent, annoying, but life-affirming movie.

The falsehood especially has to do with the hoopla surrounding "Eat Pray Love," which has taken on a life of its OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). I predict Gilbert gets her OWN TV show without a YouTube audition or Facebook votes.

The book and movie share a fascinating premise, clever writing and great marketing. "Eat Pray Love" has spawned a 400-item product line, including perfumes, gelato machines, candles, incense, body oils and floor rugs. Home Shopping Network had 72 straight hours of hype.

Then there was the timing of Roberts' pronouncement of her conversion to Buddhism. Gee, what does Bill O'Reilly say about that?

The movie is one-part confessional, one-part galloping gourmet and one-part travelogue.

Feature director Ryan Murphy (2006's "Running With Scissors"; TV's hit "Nip-Tuck," "Glee", from a screenplay co-written with Jennifer Salt ("Nip-Tuck") based on Gilbert's book, and working with director of photography Robert Richardson (Oscar winner, "The Aviator," "JFK" has created one gorgeous movie.

In nearly every frame, Roberts' American girl face and blonde-tresses are bathed in back light. And, the sun also rises or sets behind a hill, lake or building. The movie is suffused with a golden glow.

The by now well known trek of self-discovery took Gilbert (Roberts) from a seemingly content, if not exciting, marriage, to separation from Stephen (Billy Crudup, with the demeanor of a rescue dog you want to take home) into the arms of an off-Broadway actor, David (the even more charming puppy dog James Franco).

Even after the divorce, Gilbert still hasn't found her mojo, she confides to best friend, Delia (Viola Davis). So that Stella, er, Elizabeth, gets her groove back, Gilbert travels to Italy.

This is the "Eat" portion (and the portions are large). Watching Roberts guzzle spaghetti isn't pretty. The numerous glossy magazine style photos of plates of food are. These elicited "oohhs and aahs" at the screening, as if water-pail size popcorn boxes weren't enough. For awhile, I thought the projectionist switched to the Food Channel.

Then, it's off to an ashram in India. Perhaps to work off the pounds, Gilbert is tasked to scrubbing floors. She meets a bearded, be-speckled Texan (the reliable Richard Jenkins), who, despite the script's insistence, looks nothing like James Taylor.

Gilbert's last stop is a real high: Bali, where she meets the love of her life, Felipe (Javier Bardem, who lights up the screen as another of the movie's chief assets), a Brazilian-born Australian living in Indonesia.

Roberts is the right actor to play Gilbert (who somewhat resembles her). Roberts wears her emotions on her face and in her eyes. She has an inner life that gives resonance to gadfly Gilbert, suffering from a kind of spiritual bulimia. We know Roberts can sympathetically act the part of a less than exemplary role model. After all, she played a prostitute with a heart of gold in her huge hit, "Pretty Woman" (1990).

"Eat Pray Love" is carefully structured to place Roberts in scenes with a sidekick, with whom to banter and react, a screen trait she excels at. She also gets to model a great wardrobe, from seersucker jackets to scrunchy hats to lovely Indian gowns (part of that 400-item product placement?).

"Eat Pray Love" isn't the first film made from a Gilbert tome. "Coyote Ugly" (2000) was based on "The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon," a GQ magazine article she wrote about a New York City bar.

"Eat Pray Love" is not the last we've heard of Gilbert.

Gilbert's ex, Michael Cooper, wrote about his side of the divorce, recovery and work as a humanitarian aid worker in the yet-to-be-published, "Displaced." Cooper is married to a Canadian diplomat, has two sons and is studying public interest law at Georgetown.

Gilbert followed "Eat, Pray, Love" with "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage," published in January and also a New York Times best-seller, about her marriage to the man she met in Bali.

"Committed." Talk about irony.

Ultimately, "Eat Pray Love" is really the "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty" story of a woman seeking and meeting her Prince Charming disguised as a modern-day fairytale about a female sexual predator on a manhunt.

Sometimes fairytales do come true with the right marketing, of course.

"Eat Pray Love," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity; Genre: Drama; Run Time 2 hr., 13 min.; Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Eat Pray Love" was filmed in New York City, Rome, Delhi and Bali.

Box Office, Aug. 27: "The Last Exorcism" scared up $21.3 million to open at No. 1, with another new release, "Takers," close behind with $21 million at No. 2. "The Expendables," after a two-week run at No. 1, dropped to No. 3, with $9.5 million and $82 million after three weeks.

4. "Eat Pray Love," $7 million, $60.7 million, three weeks; 5. "The Other Guys," $6.6 million, $99.3 million, four weeks; 6. "Vampires Suck," $5.3 million, $27.9 million, two weeks; 7. "Inception," $5.1 million, $270.7 million, seven weeks; 8. "Nanny McPhee Returns," $4.7 million, $17 million, two weeks; 9. "The Switch," $4.6 million, $16.4 million, two weeks; 10. "Piranha 3D," $4.3 million, $18.2 million

Unreel, Sept. 3:

"The American," rated R (opening Sept. 1): George Clooney stars as an assassin in the crime thriller, hiding out in an Italian village as he waits for his latest assignment.

"Going the Distance," rated R: Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, her on-again, off-again real-life significant other, star in a romantic comedy about a woman and man whose romance is up in the air as they commute between Chicago and Los Angeles.

"Machete," rated R: Robert Rodriguez co-directs the crime drama about gangsters along the Texas border. The cast includes Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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