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Movies for Grownups

The Expendables & Eat Pray Love

These two summer films have more in common than you might think.

Eat, Pray, Love

— François Duhamel/© 2009 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.

Which brings us to Eat Pray Love, an unapologetic buffet offering one main course after another, and which offers us, in place of The Expendables' buckets of blood, lots and lots of tomato sauce. It’s based on a memoir that was read by virtually every woman I know, and even those who didn't like it tell me they sympathized with author Elizabeth Gilbert's desire to find spiritual and temporal balance in her life. Here Gilbert's onscreen stand-in is Julia Roberts, whose star power blazes at first magnitude as she treks from New York (leaving behind a heartbroken ex-hubby and devastated ex-boyfriend — and you would be, too, if Julia Roberts dumped you) to Italy to explore the art of pleasure. Then she's off to an Indian ashram to discover the secrets of spiritual devotion, and finally to Bali to find a way to balance the two.

There's some love along the way, and a little bit of praying, but it's the "Eat" in the title that gets the most attention, like a neon sign in the window of an all-night diner. Roberts and company are always eating. And if they're not eating, they're cooking. Or they're checking out what some other person is having. Where most directors would simply cut from one scene to another, between narrative stretches Ryan Murphy shoves our noses into herbs and raw vegetables being chopped on boards, plates heaped with spaghetti, slices of cheese-dripped pizza, platters of exotic South Seas cuisine, and on and on. At one point Roberts's character confides that she's gained 10 pounds (she's a good actress, but it sounds and looks like a lie).

The orgy of eating, globe-hopping, and self-indulgent navel gazing is interrupted with a few nice scenes of authentic emotion. Most memorable is a piece near the end, when the heroine's new friend Richard — played by the always-thoughtful Richard Jenkins — pours his heart out to her on the ashram roof. He tells her a heartbreaking story from his past and convinces her that she, like him, needs to find a way to forgive herself for the hurt she's inflicted upon others, particularly her former husband. For Liz, it should be a moment of epiphany, but when Richard leaves her alone and she has an imaginary conversation with her far-away ex, she tells him, in essence, "Hey, I've forgiven myself. Get over it!"

Which is where Eat Pray Love and The Expendables depart from their parallel paths. Sylvester Stallone learns a lesson in humanity, and Julia Roberts doesn't. Who'da thunk it?

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