Since I'm going to spend the majority of the next several hundred words complaining, it's important that I first establish my great affection for Cameron Crowe and what he brings to movies. The celebrated Rolling Stone writer and author of Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the writer/director behind such films as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, one of my all-time favorites.
When the death of his father brings him to Elizabethtown, KY., Drew Baylor's (Orlando Bloom, right) life is changed when he meets an irrepressibly positive flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst, left).
Crowe is an unabashed romantic who believes that people are good at heart. He knows that the best stories revolve around rich characters and crackling dialogue. He enjoys the challenge of writing a juicy crowd scene and he has an affinity for screwball comedy. He is a master at finding the perfect song for any given moment.
Elizabethtown has everything you would expect from a Cameron Crowe movie: colorful characters, engaging conversations, bold gestures, laughter and tears, great music ... you get the idea. Unfortunately, the good stuff is contained within an awkwardly constructed, self-indulgent film that moves with the speed and finesse of an iceberg.
The story centers on Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a terribly bland running shoe designer whose latest creation is about to become the New Coke of the footwear industry. The full story of the fiasco will be spelled out in a magazine due to hit the stands in a few days. In the meantime, Drew gets a call from his sister (Judy Greer) and mother (Susan Sarandon) in Oregon. His father has died while visiting relatives in Elizabethtown, Ky., and Drew is assigned the task of collecting the body for cremation at home.
During the plane trip to Kentucky, Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a kicky, kooky flight attendant who attaches herself to him while behaving like a demented tour guide. In Elizabethtown, Drew tries to deal with family and friends, many of whom are not wild about the taking-the-body-and-cremating-it thing. He also bonds with a young couple about to get married in his hotel. And then there's the budding relationship between Drew and Claire, which starts with a marathon phone call.
A memorial is set in Elizabethtown and Drew's mom, a figure of local controversy, decides to attend. Drew must deal with the family and friends, his mother and sister, the hotel wedding and the ever-present Claire. And just when it appears that everything has been resolved, there's a road trip! Yes, a road trip, allowing Crowe around 20 minutes to try and entrance us with musical montages.
The movie is overstuffed. Editing out a few plotlines would have helped. Elizabethtown also suffers from a lack of narrative drive. Once Drew arrives in town, the film shifts from one vignette to the next with no sense of forward movement.
Too many sit-com-ish scenes give the film a contrived feel, which is not helped by the general lack of grit. I share Crowe's faith in the innate goodness of humanity, but when even the most cranky of the Elizabethtown residents turns out to be warm, wise, benign and twinkly, the screenplay hydroplanes into a wall of wonderfulness and the drama seeps away.
Casting is an issue as well. In the lead roles, Bloom is too lightweight and Dunst is too glib. Thank goodness for the supporting actors. They may be playing a bunch of small town stereotypes, but by God they play them heartily. Best of the bunch is Paul Schneider as rowdy would-be rocker Jesse, a single father and hard-core Skynyrd fan who wants his son "to know about both Abraham Lincoln and Ronnie Van Zant." Watch Schneider - he has the electricity a leading man should have.
One final problem. The musical montages Crowe cherishes have become trite, a trick employed by numerous weekly TV dramas looking for an easy way to resolve a scene.
Elizabethtown has all the delights you would expect from a Cameron Crowe movie, but you'll have to sit through a lot of hooey to enjoy them.