Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of enlightenment gets the deluxe treatment at the hands of Glee creator Ryan Murphy, who bathes every scene in a golden glow. Unaccustomed to being alone, Liz (Julia Roberts) exits her marriage to Stephen (Billy Crudup, quite good) only to enter into an affair with an actor (James Franco, curiously uncomfortable), who introduces her to meditation.
Just as her editor, Delia (Doubt‘s Viola Davis, making the most of a small role), longed to have a baby, Liz has longed to see the world. Delia persuades her to seize the day (plus, money presents no obstacle). First, she travels to Italy, where she noshes from Rome to Naples, making new friends along the way. Then, she heads to an ashram in India, where she meets a bride-to-be and a remorseful man (Richard Jenkins, heartbreaking), who nurture her altruistic side. Her sojourn ends in Bali, where she reunites with Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto, hilarious), the healer who first encouraged her to reassess her situation.
While there, she befriends a single mother and a single father (No Country for Old Men‘s Javier Bardem) who falls for her charms. In an improvement over his version of Running with Scissors, Murphy combines two Oscar winners, two Oscar nominees, and four countries to follow one woman’s path to fulfillment. Like Julie and Julia and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Liz’s story becomes more involving as she lets go of the superficial, but Murphy’s movie still represents a triumph of escapism over spirituality.