“Elizabethtown” is Cameron Crowe’s sixth film, and he’s still trying to recapture the magic of his first one.
“Say Anything” addressed youthful indirection and awkward love, and it demonstrated Crowe’s knack for creating a perfect movie soundtrack. “Elizabethtown” does the same things, only not as well, and the indirection this time seems to be Crowe’s.
It’s likable, though, especially for the first hour or so. (After that is when you realize this movie has no … idea .. WHERE … IT’S … GOING!) There are several isolated scenes that are riotously funny, and others that are aw-shucks sweet. Then there’s a lengthy scene at a memorial service that has no purpose whatsoever, and is too madcap-wacky besides. What’s going on here?
What’s going on is a movie about a man’s personal journey, re-finding himself after losing his job and his father within 24 hours of each other. Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) has just cost his footwear company a billion dollars with his flawed shoe design and is contemplating suicide when he learns that his father has died while visiting relatives in Elizabethtown, Ky. Drew’s suicide plans are put on hold while he travels to Kentucky to claim the body, which means having to visit with his dad’s down-home kinfolk (most of whom Drew has never met) for a few days, too.
On the way he meets a stewardess named Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst), a Southern gal with a perky attitude and whimsical outlook on life. Armed with her phone number, Drew is able to lean on her when things with the Kentucky relatives get too strange, and when she’s stationed nearby, he’s able to see her.
Crowe achieves a smartly precarious situation with Drew’s arrival in Elizabethtown. It will be several days before anyone outside the company knows about his shoe fiasco; everyone in Kentucky just knows him as Mitch’s successful shoe-industry son, and they dote on him as if he’d grown up among them. At times he forgets that back home in Oregon he is unemployed and suicidal. Then he remembers, and he realizes he has no plan for after the business with his father is settled.
I mentioned the film is about Drew’s journey. This is problematic only because we don’t know a) where he was when he started, or b) where he is when he’s finished. About the time that Susan Sarandon (in a completely unnecessary role as Drew’s mother) is tap-dancing at the memorial service, and the rock band is playing “Freebird” while the hotel ballroom catches on fire — well, that’s when it becomes painfully clear that Crowe doesn’t have a plan, either.
This version of the film is about 15 minutes shorter than the one that played at the Venice and Toronto film festivals; it still feels at least 15 minutes too long. Part of the trouble could be Bloom, who, in his first major role not involving tights or crossbows, comes across as bland when put against the backdrop of reality. He’s an affable fellow, but not one you want to hang your whole movie on.
Luckily, there are numerous supporting characters to bring smiles and chuckles — Alec Baldwin as Drew’s boss, Judy Greer as his sister, and the various aunts, uncles and cousins in Elizabethtown who are charming and funny in a natural, Kentucky-fried sort of way. The soundtrack, as always, is killer, and used to great effect. I’m not saying you shouldn’t see the movie, just that when you do, you might be a little underwhelmed by it.
B- (2 hrs., 3 min.; )