Summer entertainment is synonymous with escapism. A quick look at the local multiplex and you’ll find improbable action thrillers, CGI-animated features and hundred-million-dollar movies based on comic books. Summer releases in general skew toward the very young and the very male.

The last time I checked, Eat, Pray, Love had not been released as a graphic novel. Which may be one reason so many women have been looking forward to it. I wish I could give it an unmitigated “thumbs-up.” But given the theme of the film, perhaps a more balanced review is more appropriate anyway.

Published in 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir struck a chord. In fact, it struck more than 6 million chords in some 40 languages. Her autobiographical story of a woman who trekked the world to find herself is part travel guide, part ensemble story, and part personal diary. It’s well written and held a place on the New York Times bestseller list for 150 weeks (57 in the top spot). And it’s also become a bit of a movement. Thousands of the book’s most loyal fans don’t limit their engagement with Gilbert to an armchair adventure. They book their own trips to the places she wrote about.

Clearly, the new movie has big shoes to fill.

Eat Pray Love, released earlier this month, is directed by Ryan Murphy, best known for his breakout TV series “Nip/Tuck” and this year’s Emmy favorite “Glee.” Murphy, along with Jennifer Salt, also wrote the screenplay. In interviews, Murphy has asserted that he went through dozens of dog-eared copies of the book while he made the movie. And he deliberately shot the scenes in the order in which they occurred in the book. The script is devotedly faithful to Gilbert’s book, which will no doubt please her legions of fans. Unfortunately, this may be one of its greatest flaws.

In her quest for self, our heroine, Liz Gilbert, spent four months in Italy, four months in India, and four months in Indonesia. That’s a lot of introspection.

It won’t take you an entire year to watch Eat Pray Love, but it may feel like it—the movie runs nearly two and a half hours. You get the sense that the creative team was a bit too fond of the source material. Fewer flashbacks, less prelude, less clichéd self-help dialogue would have helped the movie.  So would more time in the editing suite.

That said, it would be a shame to cut any of Robert Richardson’s glorious cinematography. Each location is bathed in an almost supernatural light. At times it feels like one of those PBS specials comprising extraordinary aerial footage set to opera. Except in Eat Pray Love, we get to touch down and … well … eat and pray and love.

In real life, Gilbert went through a bitter and confusing divorce. She then went to Italy to find her appetite for life, to India to find her relationship with God, and to Indonesia to find balance. By the end of the movie, Julia Roberts has not only found those elusive keys to self, she also gets to take home Javier Bardem. Not too shabby, as quests go.

Roberts is wondrous as Liz. Is there any actress in Hollywood with a more charming grin or infectious laugh? Absolutely critical to the success of the movie, and the book before it, is our ability to relate to Liz’s situation. The story has been criticized as wish fulfillment for the privileged—how many of us, after all, have the resources to take a year off to eat, pray and love? But you never doubt that Roberts’ Liz is in true pain. As she finds herself, she also rediscovers her ability to bring compassion, understanding, and joy to others. It is a generous performance, and Roberts’ extreme likability is the main thread that keeps this overlong film memoir together.

I can’t give the movie a rave review, but it has many positive moments. One of the great pleasures of Eat Pray Love is watching Roberts herself take great pleasure in a plate of succulent spaghetti or a slice—or several—of the best pizza in Naples. Rumor has it that the actress gained ten pounds on the set. Like Tilda Swinton in I Am Love earlier this summer, Roberts’ Liz doesn’t simply regain her appetite through the act of eating, she rediscovers passion.

Another point in the movie’s favor is the cast. Murphy has had great success with ensemble TV, and in Eat Pray Love, he surrounds Roberts with an extraordinary troupe. Even minor characters with one or two lines are presented as fully realized human beings. Gilbert returns to the real world with new jeans (byproduct of all that pasta), a new sense of self, a new love of her life, and an international extended family that will surely last as long and be as treasured as any of the above.

The ensemble includes Billy Cruddup, James Franco, Tuva Novotny, Rushita Singh, Christine Hakim, Hadi Subiyanto and scores of other actors in literally every shape and size. Among the best of these is Richard Jenkins as “Richard from Texas,” a fellow devotee at the Indian ashram, whose painful story seems to break open the cocoon of self absorption in which Liz has been traveling until she meets him.

By the time Liz reaches Bali, she is ready to love again. Enter the dashing, rugged yet tender, divorced Brazilian Felipé. Felipé calls everyone “darling:” his grown son, his pets, and our girl Liz. I must confess that if I were Liz, he would have had me at “olá,” too. By now, Liz has paid her dues, eaten her pizzas, prayed her 216-verse guru gita. After two-plus hours, you may be checking your watch, but you’re definitely rooting for her.

The movie is beautiful. The heroine is beautiful. The concept of traveling to find yourself? Beautiful. Less would have been more. But, there are worse places you could spend a summer afternoon than surrounded by all that beauty.

Eat Pray Love will not help you attain nirvana. But surely it will get you a lot closer than the movie playing in the next theater: Resident Evil: Afterlife 3.

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