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Eat Pray Love, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World 

EAT PRAY LOVE

***1/2

Just for the record, not all porn flicks are of the X-rated variety. More palatable for mass consumption are the films that qualify as "food porn," works that show off delectable dishes in all their mouthwatering glory (e.g. Babette's Feast, Julie & Julia). Then there's the "travel porn" branch, efforts that offer postcard perfection and entice moviegoers to blow their savings on airfare and overseas accommodations (Out of Africa, Under the Tuscan Sun).

With trips to Italy, India and Bali, Eat Pray Love easily qualifies as travel porn, and the first third of its title promises a fair amount of food porn as well. But whereas these labels often prove to be a superficial picture's whole reason for being, more complex movies use them as mere window dressing on a story that's already involving down to its core. Eat Pray Love, an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of the same name, joins the aforementioned pictures in this distinguished class.

I haven't read Gilbert's book, and it's entirely possible that, in comparison, the film version seems about as complicated as an episode of Dora the Explorer. But on its own, this is a richly rewarding experience, following one woman's journey both across the globe and within herself. Julia Roberts delivers her strongest performance since Erin Brockovich a full decade ago -- as Liz Gilbert, she brings to the forefront the doubts, frustrations and longings inherent in a woman who soon realizes that she's not content with her marriage or with her surroundings and elects to set out on new adventures.

Liz finds both spiritual and physical nourishment during her travels, but her lessons aren't conveyed to us in the usual cookie-cutter platitudes; instead, the dialogue is frequently lyrical and lovely, never cheapening the thoughts or feelings being revealed.

In a summer dominated (as always) by male-skewering titles (everything from Sandler to Stallone), Eat Pray Love is certain to get dismissed in some quarters as Sex and the City 2's sister in failed counter programming. But with its themes of self-discovery and its impressive roster of award-caliber actors (Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis), it's actually an intelligent movie for discernible grownups who wouldn't be caught dead seeing Grown Ups.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

***

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the movie Kick-Ass wishes it could be when it grows up. Thematically savvy, cinematically eye-popping, and infused with a here-and-now pop-culture specificity that's part of the organic whole rather than just a cynical or faddish way to tackle the material, this adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels isn't just for the youthful gamers and gawkers -- far from it.

Writer-director Edgar Wright, the British chap beloved by American filmgoers for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, heads for North America (Toronto, to be exact) for this disarming yarn about an insecure 20-something (Michael Cera) who jams with a band when he's not busy being chastised by friends and family for dating a high school student. Scott does enjoy the time spent with young Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but his romantic focus shifts once he lays eyes on standoffish punker Ramona Flowers (Rocky Mount, N.C., native Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Unceremoniously dumping Knives, he then pursues Ramona, who's game but reluctantly informs him that in order to date her, Scott must first defeat all seven of her exes.

With the exception of run-ins with a swaggering movie star (Chris Evans) and a pompous vegan (Brandon Routh), Scott's video game-inspired battles with Ramona's former lovers turn out, on balance, to be the least interesting parts of the movie -- no surprise, given the unrelenting amount of bombastic CGI required to pull these sequences off. Where the film works best is in its attention to matters of the heart, whether it's the love triangle between Scott, Ramona and Knives (Wong easily steals her ample scenes) or the universal message that every relationship comes with baggage that must be opened and sorted out before things can proceed smoothly.

Combining a giddy, sometimes campy approach to action (complete with Wham! and Pow!-style balloons) with an earnest look at messy modern relationships, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World often feels like the unholy love child of TV's 60s-era Batman and Chasing Amy -- a melding I never thought I would see on this world or any other.

 

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