It takes forever to get out of New York and hit the road that leads to Bali in the movie version of "Eat Pray Love." By then Julia Roberts' travel-writer heroine appears to be such a chaotic character you hope that Nanny McPhee will step in from the screen next door and take her in hand. In New York, she endures the agony of divorce after leaving her arrested-young-adult husband (Billy Crudup) and jumps into an ill-considered and generally incomprehensible affair with an actor (James Franco). The drama is at once so skimpy and so slow it appears to be written on slow-motion flash-cards.

Then the movie, such as it is, starts. She resolves to reawaken her body and soul and put the two in balance by spending a third of a year each in Italy, India, and Bali. At least in Italy she does something independent and comprehensible: she goes for a months-long carbohydrate high. The pasta looks inviting, and she accepts. But even there, when the narrative needs some kind of push, she writes an email to her former lover and reads it out loud to us.

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Her character -- an all-over-the-place woman going all over the map -- becomes increasingly reliant on men for guidance. She even gets her guru from her ex-lover. She finds a father figure everywhere. In India it's Richard Jenkins (the best actor in the movie) playing a recovering alcoholic at the ashram; he teaches her to forgive herself and believe in love again. In Bali, it's her crinkly-cute spiritual adviser (Hadi Subiyanto), who wants her to think through her heart while planting her feet on the ground. (I'm sorry, but that's what he wants.) She hits the jackpot there with Javier Bardem, who plays a lover who is also a father-figure and a wonderful actual father (he's divorced). He wants to be her "champion."

After 45 minutes, my wife, who had read and enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's book, fell asleep, woke up, and fell asleep again. She didn't feel as if she missed anything when she roused herself for the duration. I went home and read 45 pages and wanted to read more, because it was, unlike the film, exuberant and ardent and focused on the perceptions Gilbert gained on her journey, not on all her guys.

At the megaplex matinee I went to, the crowd was predominantly female and over 65, arriving in large groups of friends or clusters of mothers and daughters. There were almost no laughs or sighs, but afterward several said they loved it.

What is there to like? Is it the scenery? (OK, I'll give you the scenery.) And how do you feel about a smart star like Roberts enjoying her biggest weekend in years with a movie that seems to be about preparing yourself to find the perfect guy?

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