Cameron Crowe films have the remarkable gift of dancing on the line of pretension and finding that all so subtle grey area where schmaltz becomes terribly charming. Lloyd Dobler’s proclamation of love through Peter Gabriel or a “Tiny Dancer” sing-along should be insipid but instead they are moments indelibly etched into my brain. That’s why it is so disappointing to see Crowe fall flat on his face. Even Vanilla Sky, which I liked considerably more than other people, was a better film.
Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) finds himself in two major life altering crises. Not only has he lost $1 billion for his Nike-like shoe company but he learns his dad died right before he’s about to perform seppuku. Drew postpones his suicide and journeys to his father’s hometown, the titular Elizabethtown, Kentucky to handle the funeral arrangements. On the way there he encounters the chirpy flight attendant Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) and reconnects with his father’s side of the family on a path of self-discovery. Like Penny Lane of Almost Famous, Claire is unusually wise and she helps Drew overcome the loss of his father and his fiasco shoe design. Their romance along with laying the father to rest becomes a central concern in the story.
Good casting is so important for a film’s success and Crowe hugely missteps by putting Bloom in the leading role. Unless Bloom is wearing elf ears and shooting arrows, I find him a terrible bore. He’s just not an engaging actor in the same way as other Crowe leads like John Cusack or even Tom Cruise. I suppose Bloom’s going to stick around Hollywood for a while but hopefully people will wise up. Kirsten Dunst however is a delight to watch on the screen. She charms her way through the film despite her character’s annoying propensity for delivering words of wisdom and waxing on how people’s names mean something about their personality. Susan Sarandon plays Drew’s mother whose been shunned by the Elizabethtown community for moving her now dead husband, to the west coast. Much of her role serves as a comic relief that’s strangely out of place in a film dealing with such weighty subjects. However, kudos to Alec Baldwin for his brief but enjoyable five minutes as the shoe company president. It is amazing how he’s remade himself after years of being a has-been.
The film also feels remarkably disjointed. Crowe screened a longer cut of the film earlier in the year to negative reaction. He shortened the film’s running time but as a consequence it seems as if things are missing or don’t add up to a cohesive whole. As a result the film tries to be too many things in too short a time. Drew’s narration really doesn’t offer anything but comes as a cheap ploy to provide introspective poignancy. His coming to terms with the death often gets placed on the backburner when the film shifts towards the romance. I knew this film was in trouble when we get not one, but two montages of silly goings-on. Crowe never fully explores the Claire character or really explains what she finds appealing in Drew. The road trip she sends him on to go “look for America,” becomes a puzzling final 10 minutes that almost belongs to another movie.
Crowe, a former Rolling Stone journalist, demonstrates his love for all things classic rock by crafting a very good ensemble of tunes to sell on the Elizabethtown soundtrack. I only wish he spent more time crafting the story instead of diving back into his CD collection. At least he skillfully incorporates longtime favorites like Tom Petty’s “Learnin’ to Fly” with Elton John, whose song “My Father’s Gun,” seems like it was written specifically for this movie.
Many have compared this film unfavorably as a Garden State rip-off but it is more disturbing to find out people believe that it was breaking new ground. Elizabethtown doesn’t work, by comparison or otherwise. Crowe has definitely done better but I’m willing to give him a break. Even the best sluggers pop up to the infield once in a while.