Elizabethtown review by Tom Blain
I expected to see a greater film from Cameron Crowe. He bit into the surrealist sandwich with Vanilla Sky; and possibly his bite was a bit too big. Sky had light-hearted moments but lost its imagination towards the end, as beautiful brushstrokes turned into corporate hoob-a-joob. Considering he had done so well with the something for everybody date movies (love story for the gals, rock-n-roll and football for the guys) it is completely expected that he would return to that type of film making with Elizabethtown. The only problem is that he forgot half of the ingredients that made his former recipes so tasty. With only bits and pieces of his former genius at work, we have the debacle that shall be known as Elizabethtown.
Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a designer for a major shoe company in the Pacific Northwest. Its not Nike, but probably not far off either. He is apparently the designer behind a billion dollar athletic shoe that flopped worse than the Ford Edsel. He is also the fall guy for the entire project, which I think is a bit unfair. After all a bad design should be stopped by the big huge marketing people before billions get soaked into it. Regardless of my opinion on such business matters, word of his flop will hit newsstands in a week, and in the meantime he is excused from the company. With his professional life in limbo young Drew is about to take his own life when out of nowhere he gets a call from his family with even graver news: his father has just passed away in his hometown Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Drew puts down the knife, kisses his mother (Susan Sarandon) and sister (Judy Greer) goodbye, and boards a plane destined for Louisville. Elizabethtown is the perfect place to be distracted from your big business failures: its filled with down to earth people, old family you never knew you had, and possibly a new love interest who is full of energy and kind-Southern advice. Baylor reflects on his life with his family, his time with his father, and figures out what is important to him. At least, thats what we should probably gather from this film.
There is plenty of Southern charm in Elizabethtown, but Baylor seems unaffected by it for the most part. He gets advice from his newest flight attendant friend, Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) to move on from his failures, but really.what were his other options? Baylor does help his cousin cool down his out-of-control son for a moment (one of the better father-son relationships in the movie), but since this lesson is "distract your kid with this video-tape" it feels temporary and shallow. He attends his fathers funeral, but based on the memories Crowe shows us he remembers very little of the man, and doesnt seem to reflect on any lessons learned. If anything, his mother (who surprisingly comes only on the day of the funeral) shows she has learned more by his dads passing. While gone, she learns to do things that she relied on him for in the past and even learns things she has wanted to do her whole life. Its as if his passing was just what she needed! But Drew Baylor moves from point A to point B in the script and never seems to grow much wiser.
Elizabethtown seems to leave this you with this Splenda aftertaste. Its artificial sweetness will not satisfy your dramatic cinema hunger what-so-ever. The characters will not convince you like Crowes formerly loveable characters. Like all his other movies, Crowe tries to create these lasting moments. He is often brilliant when it comes to creating memorable scenes. Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire are chock full of these little scenes, and thats how we remember these movies. Crowe tries to force the issue in Elizabethtown but runs into a fatal flaw. Moments that should be tender and light-hearted are too distant to be engaging. The primary reason for that is that the characters are too plain. Take Orlando Blooms character, Drew Baylor. There is little emotional investment in this guy. From the first moment we see him, he seems to be devoid of any emotion. He replies, "I'm fine," with robotic repition. Even as he fashions a suicide machine out of his stationary bike he really shows little emotion or personality. If fact, after 15 minutes you get the idea that Bloom isnt really acting at all; maybe just reading lines off a card. By the time we reach the 30-minute mark, you dont really care if he is having a 9-hour phone conversation with Kirsten Dunst in a scene that should be more memorable.
One of the moments that probably should be more memorable is also the oddest placed moment. On his way back to Oregon, Baylor takes a road trip ingeniously crafted by Colburn. It looks as if she has spent her whole life burning CDs, drawing maps, and pasting pictures into a scrapbook for this man void of any personality. His trip cross-country is crammed into about 15-20 minute window between what should have been the end and the credits. It looks great and shows what Crowe likes to do: take classic great music, and piece it to pictures across the great U.S. This section should have been cut out of this movie and made into is own film; or better yet it should have been expanded and started in the middle to stress Baylors desire to go on a trip with his father. It feels rushed, and based on the rest of the film, unnecessary.
This film could use a couple of things. Possibly a re-write, or re-organization of the script. There is a lack of scene cohesion. If there was a strong story pushing each scene, then maybe Crowe's moments would shine a bit more. Bloom gives off one of the most disappointing performances. Sarandon doesn't help her character at all either. All in all, this movie is very underwhelming. It has hints of what could have been, but there is no glue holding this big mess together.
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IMDB Link: Elizabethtown
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