Elizabethtown review by Mike Long

I always try to be very honest in my reviews, so here's yet another admission: I've never been much of a Cameron Crowe fan. Yes, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a classic, and the story of how Crowe wrote the script is fascinating, so he gets a passing grade on that one. Say Anything has some great moments, but the movie becomes too serious for its own good. I loved the music and characters in Singles, but the story sank under it's own weight. The less said about Jerry Maguire the better. ("Show me the exit!") Almost Famous was my favorite Crowe film to date, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd never truly understand that world. And Vanilla Sky may be one of the most unnecessary remakes ever. So, the critically lauded Crowe began to get negative reviews for his latest outing, Elizabethtown (New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews called it "as big a misfire as any major director has had in years."), I was convinced that there would be yet another Cameron Crowe movie for me to dislike. Perhaps it was the fact that I was expecting to hate it, but Elizabethtown revealed itself to be a surprisingly entertaining film.

As Elizabethtown opens, we are introduced to Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a man who is having a very bad day. After years of research & development, Drew's employer, Mercury Shoes, has rolled out his pet project, the "Spasmotica". But, for reasons which aren't disclosed, the shoe is recalled, and Drew's boss (Alec Baldwin) informs Drew that the company stands to lose $1 billion. So, Drew goes home to kill himself. But, before he can complete the act, his sister, Heather (Judy Greer), calls Drew to inform him that their father is dead. He died while on a trip to his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and that Drew must go claim the body for cremation.

So, Drew puts his suicide plans on hold and takes the red-eye from Oregon to Kentucky. On the plane, he meets a plucky, loquacious flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who is determined to talk to Drew. As he exits the plane, she gives him her phone number. When Drew reaches Elizabethtown, he is quickly swarmed by his father's family and friends -- people who are totally foreign to him. As Drew and the Baylor's clash on what to do with the body, Drew finds himself drawn into the seemingly alien world of the town. He also finds himself calling Claire and the two form an odd kinship. As Drew drifts through the days following his father's death and he starts to adjust to the fact that he's a failure in business, he begins to search for his true identity.

As noted above, I've had some issues with Crowe's previous films and they were usually related with the fact that he often bites off more than he can chew and he saddles his dramatic characters with far too much drama. Those same issues plague Elizabethtown, but for some reason, I was able to overlook them and actually get into the story. This isn't to say that the movie is flawless, as it's far from it. Crowe has opted to underwrite some of Elizabethtown and this hampers the film. Some may find my argument nitpicky, but the fact that we never learn exactly what went wrong with the shoe bugged me. (And seriously, "Spasmotica"? That sound's like something one would find in a Farrelly Brothers movie.) Also, we never get a clear handle on who Drew's dad was, or more importantly, what Drew's relationship with his dad was like. We see how the residents of Elizabethtown react to the death and how they want to celebrate the man's life, but it's not the same with Drew. We get glimpses of Drew's feelings for his father, but there is nothing concrete. The viewer is left to decide for themselves what Drew's relationship with his dad was like and this make the film feel incomplete. (It could be argued that due to Drew's circumstances, he's gone emotionally numb and we aren't meant to gauge his feelings.) The oddest stutter in Elizabethtown is that the finale feels like the beginning of a whole new movie. (And forgive me, but the existence of the "map" is highly unbelievable, unless Claire has a time machine.) I also had issues with the music in the film. If Crowe had spent a little more time on the script and less time picking songs for the film, things may have turned out differently. I don't think I've ever seen a director so afraid of having a silent moment in his film.

And yet, despite these crippling flaws, I still found myself drawn into Elizabethtown. This may have to do with the fact that for the first time in over a decade, Crowe is writing about fairly normal people. These aren't rock stars, or disfigured playboys, or professional athletes, but everyday people dealing with their own personal tragedies. In the film's opening, Drew talks about the difference between a failure and a fiasco. We've all had failures of some sort in our professional lives, so the film instantly offers a hook to the audience. Crowe does a good job of walking the fine line between realism and parody with his portrayal of the residents of Elizabethtown. He could have easily ran screaming into the territory where everyone in rural America is portrayed as a brain-dead hick, but he resists, showing these people to be slightly eccentric, yet intelligent and caring as well. It's the character of Claire where Crowe takes the biggest risk of alienating the audience. I can see people finding her very annoying, but I've known many women like this -- those rare females who are fun, cool, intuitive, and sexy. Claire is someone who would normally drive Drew crazy, but in his confused state, she acts as a life preserver. Within these believable characters, Crowe weaves creative and poetic dialogue which tips the poignant scales in favor of the film.

For me, Elizabethtown is somewhat of a toss up. I liked the characters (so much so that I was able to tolerate actors who normally annoy me) and the situations, but thanks to Crowe's cold approach, I didn't feel any emotional connection to the movie. There are some nice dramatic moments, and some funny moments, but the best thing that I can say about the movie is that it's a Cameron Crowe film which I'd be willing to watch again.

Elizabethtown travels onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The movie is coming to DVD in two separate editions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good here, as the picture is sharp and clear. The image shows little-to-no grain and there are no overt defects from the source material. The colors look good, and Crowe makes some very deliberate decisions with the palette, such as Claire's red hat. I did noticed some haloes around the actors at times, but otherwise the transfer looks fine. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. As would be expected with a dramedy, the track provides clear dialogue with no distortion. Yet, this track goes one step further, as the film's (constant) musical score sounds very good and often fills the front and rear channels. The surround sound channels also do a good job with crowd noise and the airplane sound effects.

The Elizabethtown DVD is surprisingly shorn of extras, possibly due to the fact that the film was a box-office disappointment. "Training Wheels" (2 minutes) offers screen tests of the actors as well as what is presumably shot-on-video rehearsal footage. This segment is accompanied by music and there is no dialogue. Also without dialogue is "Meet the Crew", a 3-minute segment of behind-the-scenes footages pinpointing various crew members. There are two "Extended Scenes", one of which is from a video shown in the film, which offer nothing new to the story. (Where is the footage that Crowe reportedly cut after festival screenings?) The extras are completed by a "Photo Gallery" and two "Theatrical Trailers".

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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