ELIZABETHTOWN (Cameron Crowe, 2005)
In ELIZABETHTOWN Orlando Bloom plays a shoe designer whose product is such a spectacular failure in the marketplace—it rings up a $972 million loss—that he loses his job, his girlfriend, and his will to live. Drew Baylor is preparing to end it all when a call comes informing him that his father has died unexpectedly while visiting his old hometown. At the behest of his family, Drew flies from Oregon to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to make the necessary funeral arrangements. En route he meets spunky flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst). Neither of them can quite explain the power of their unspoken mutual attraction, but it keeps them in frequent contact while Drew copes with the death of a parent and his secret professional shame.
Faith in humanity and pop music typify Cameron Crowe’s films. With ELIZABETHTOWN the director of JERRY MAGUIRE and ALMOST FAMOUS has made another heartfelt movie shot through with his sensibility. He’s also made a gigantic mess, the first directorial misfire in his six-film oeuvre.
It’s not for lack of ambition. If anything, Crowe has tried to do too much. ELIZABETHTOWN is part screwball comedy, family drama, and romance, which combine for a film that is all off-key. The many tone switches don’t mesh and undermine the characters. Everything to do with Drew’s mother Hollie (Susan Sarandon) wigging out, culminating in an excruciating scene in which she tells a boner joke and does a tap dance at her husband’s farewell party, does not work in the context of her spouse’s death. Bloom’s performance is problematic. He lacks the substantial presence and gravity Drew needs. For someone on the verge of breaking down completely, he seems remarkably laidback.
ELIZABETHTOWN isn’t a disaster, though. Crowe’s acumen for picking rock songs to play in the background and during montages is as spot on as ever. His use of Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” is tops, and the last twenty minutes or so serve as the avowed rock fan's ultimate mix CD with accompanying visuals. Drew’s arrival in Elizabethtown and reception by relatives locates the right mixture of humor and sadness—and the ring of truth—that the film lacks overall. Bloom and Dunst share some nice moments, although their subplot seems like it belongs in a different film. ELIZABETHTOWN is a frustrating film because Crowe gives us glimpses of what it could have been but mostly leaves the view unfocused.