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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

Traveling vicariously by DVD


DETROIT — There are many reasons to see Eat Pray Love, the new Julia Roberts movie about a woman who devotes a year to a soul-searching trip to Italy, India, and Bali.

First, there's the high-minded reason: to see how the cinematic adaptation stacks up to Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, a book that has inspired tremendous loyalty from fans who admire its message and criticism from those who consider it self-indulgent.

Second, there's the obvious reason: Roberts hasn't starred in many films lately. Moviegoers have missed her and are counting on the actress to regain her status as a box-office queen — and restore some of the dignity to glamorous travel movies that Sex and the City 2 destroyed.

Third, there's the most fun reason, at least in my opinion: It's a mini-vacation to watch a movie in which a beautiful heroine goes to a beautiful location and learns something about life, love, and delicious food. A week of globe-trotting could run you thousands of dollars and lead to jet lag. A matinee of Eat Pray Love is an economical and easy choice.

So give the movie a try and, if you want to continue traveling vicariously, here are a few fairly recent titles for your itinerary:

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003): Diane Lane is a divorcee who spontaneously decides to buy a charming villa in Italy that, much like her wounded heart, needs some restoration. It's like the best episode of House Hunters International ever.

The Proposal (2009): This Sandra Bullock comedy has Betty White as its secret weapon — and a story line about a book editor who plans to marry her male assistant to avoid deportation to Canada. When Bullock and Ryan Reynolds go to see his family in Alaska, the scenery is so charming, you won't even mind that New England is playing the role of Sarah Palin's state.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998): This is an adaptation of Terry McMillan's novel about an older woman who falls in love with a younger man. Complications ensue, of course, but not before Angela Bassett gets to enjoy the luxurious Jamaican vacation where she meets Taye Diggs.

French Kiss (1995): Meg Ryan is a jilted girlfriend who rushes off to Paris to see her ex and becomes an unwitting smuggler for an amiable Frenchman played by Kevin Kline. If you're not interested in the story line, you can always focus on how successfully Kline is maintaining his French accent or how cute Ryan's spiky haircut is.

Notting Hill (1999): Another Julia Roberts movie, this one set in London. She's a famous American actress making a movie abroad. Hugh Grant is an ordinary bookstore owner. You know that romance is going to happen when she walks into his store. Thank goodness the Kindle wasn't around back then.

The Bridges of Madison County (1995): OK, this time, a guy visits a gorgeous setting — and, yes, it's Iowa — and finds his soul mate. Clint Eastwood is a photographer on assignment who has a poignant affair with an Italian-born housewife played by Meryl Streep. It will make you want to cancel your reservation at a glitzy island resort and book something near a flat Midwestern farm.

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