How Julia got her groove back, while Scott Pilgrim gets into a groove of his own

by Mark Burger

Eat Pray Love isn’t as unbearably sappy as it might have been, but that’s hardly a recommendation. The film is not nearly as deep or meaningful as it portends (and pretends) to be. Still, contributing it could have been so much worse.

This adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir has been tailored as a star vehicle for Julia Roberts, here playing Gilbert.

After a failed marriage (to handsome Billy Crudup) and a failed romance with a young actor (handsome James Franco), Liz seeks meaning in her life. She’s in a rut — mostly of her own doing, it should be noted, as she dumped both husband and boyfriend — and needs a change of scenery. Lucky for her that she has the financial resources to take a year off and make the rounds: Italy, India, Indonesia. There, she will eat, pray, love.

And the audience will watch, captivated (perhaps) by the exotic locations — nicely filmed, to be sure — and compelled (perhaps not) by the circumstances in which Liz regains her lust for life, circumstances that are portrayed in make-or-break soapopera fashion by screenwriters Jennifer Salt (the actress-turned-screenwriter) and Ryan Murphy (who also directed).

The locations are pleasant to look at, courtesy of Robert Richardson’s cinematography, although one scene of Liz eating spaghetti in Rome is photographed with all the reverence of the Second Coming. (At least the filmmakers avoided specific product placement, otherwise the scene would make a fabulous TV commercial.)

Richard Jenkins provides some nice moments as “Richard from Texas,” a crusty but lovable expatriate whom Liz meets at an ashram in India, and Javier Bardem certainly fits the bill as Liz’s eventual Prince Charming, a divorced (and seemingly very wealthy) import/export dealer who woos her in Bali… although one can’t help but wonder what he’s importing and/or exporting when he tells her he can live anywhere.

Viola Davis holds down the fort at home, occupying the role of Liz’s best friend and perpetual sounding board. Nevertheless, they all revolve around Roberts.

In the end, of course, things work out just fine. It’s Julia Roberts, how could they not? In her movies, Julia Roberts conquers adversity. It doesn’t conquer her. Adversity, be it romantic or emotional or otherwise, is merely a minor annoyance, one that doesn’t stand a chance against her. Just give her a few hours and all will be well in the world… or her world, anyway. It’s her world, and welcome to it.

Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular series of graphic novels (i.e. comic books),

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, finds Michael Cera playing the title role and playing in familiar territory.

Cera’s Scott Pilgrim is a would-be rock- ’n’-roller and a full-time slacker, but he just can’t seem to find true love. That is, until he encounters Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), she of the funky hair color and hard-to-get demeanor. Naturally, Scott is smitten. Immediately.

There are, however, complications. For one thing, Scott has been dating highschooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who clearly adores him, and he’s got to dump her. Then there’s the matter of Ramona’s seven ex-boyfriends (actually, one’s a girl), each possessed of super powers and each obsessed with Ramona. To win Ramona, Scott must vanquish them, or else.

Well, there really isn’t an “or else.”

Either he does or he doesn’t, and it’s fairly obvious going into the film that Scott will eventually triumph.

The onscreen chemistry between Cera and Winstead is negligible at best, and aside from periodic alterations to her hair color, Ramona isn’t all that interesting a character and doesn’t have all that much to do.

Winstead is also a few years older than Cera, which wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious if either character displayed any discernible interest in each other beyond the requirements of the screenplay. Ramona treats Scott more like a kid brother than a boyfriend. Cera enjoys a fair better onscreen rapport with Wong, as the wronged Knives.

With the exception of Jason Schwartzman as record promoter Gideon Gordon Graves, the most formidable of Ramona’s former paramours, the other exes aren’t onscreen long enough to make much of an impression. Conversely, Cera is onscreen almost nonstop, trotting out his by-now familiar hopeless-romantic shtick, a latter-day bundle of quirks and neuroses not unlike the early roles of Woody Allen.

It hardly matters that he’s playing Scott Pilgrim; Cera could just as well be reprising his role from any number of previous performances, including Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Year One — in which he played an ersatz caveman version of Scott Pilgrim. He’s not necessarily bad in the role; he’s simply done it before.

A laid-back, sleepy-eyed Kieran Culkin plays as Scott’s gay roommate. In a film like this, gay characters are somewhat akin to Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward: they get all the wittiest lines. Anna Kendrick plays Scott’s gossipy but (somewhat) sympathetic kid sister. Culkin and Kendrick have their amusing moments, as do Mark Webber and Allison Pill as Scott’s bandmates, but the supporting characters eventually vanish into the background.

Nevertheless, the film is never boring, and sometimes quite funny. Director Edgar Wright (who wrote the screenplay with Michael Bacall) brings a good measure of imagination and visual panache to the proceedings, and there are some choice lines of dialogue. Given the proliferation of bad romantic comedies — hardly a month goes by, it seems, without one or two hitting the multiplexes — Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is livelier than most, which may be a minor victory, but a victory nonetheless.

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