Travel advisory: Make “Elizabethtown” a short stay
Ask any old-fashioned romantic. Too few films today that bill themselves as a “romantic comedy” actually spend time developing the connection between the supposed love interests.
Usually it’s a “meet cute,” followed by a bedroom scene, THEN maybe the relationship can begin to blossom. So give some credit to director Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown,” which at least allows its couple Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) and Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) to have one long overnight cell phone conversation, and a sunrise watch before the de rigueur hotel room liaison.
Crowe has some very good ideas here, many of them interesting and funny, but the story lacks cohesion, focus, and contains one too many scenes that simply fall flat. Given the director’s consistent and continually improving previous work, “Say Anything,” “Jerry McGuire,” and “Almost Famous,” his latest is a big step backward. Rarely boring but rarely believable, “Elizabethtown” is quirky but ultimately unfulfilling.
The film begins with Drew contemplating suicide because a shoe he developed for a major Nike-type company tanks and costs the company nearly a billion dollars. That’s a pretty harsh reaction over one ugly shoe, and an unrealistic one too. No conglomerate would ever risk so much for one shoe designed by one man.
Drew is rescued from skewering himself with a steak knife attached to an exercise bike by a phone call informing him that his father has died in Kentucky. As the oldest living son, his charge is to go back, reclaim the body, and ensure that his father’s wishes– at least according to his mom (Susan Sarandon)– are carried out.
Alone on his flight, he meets a chatty, somewhat flighty flight attendant Claire (Dunst). Drew eventually calls her, and between the awkward and sometimes humorous funeral preparations and meeting his father’s small town associates, he spends time with Claire who visits Drew with a stalker’s impulsiveness.
Moments of lucidity are mixed with one-dimensional southern stereotypes and forced humor. It says a lot about Sarandon’s talent (a not-so-grieving widow) that she manages to salvage some dignity in an embarrassing scene that feigns poignancy. At least 30 minutes of the film needed to wind up on the editing room floor. In particular the final road trip, which is typical of the entire film– a good stew of overcooked ideas that should have been excised by at least half.
Director Crowe has impeccable taste in music and is a pioneer of contemporary movie soundtracks dating back to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Perhaps weighing on him, his reputation impairs his restraint. While the film contains some great music (no complaints about “Tumbleweed Connection”-period Elton John songs being used in any film), often the music overwhelms rather than underscores the emotions of a scene.
Bloom occasionally struggles but shows promise in his first-down-to-earth role. Dunst can make the bizarre endearing and the rest of the cast is up to the task.
“Elizabethtown” is certainly not a bad film. Crowe is a gifted director and we can and will expect better things in his future.
Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual references.