Joined: 30 October 2004
Welcome to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where southern charm and small town staunchness are served up in equal helpings. Everyone knows everyone else, everyone else's family, and everyone else's personal business. Folks are pretty set in their ways in Elizabethtown, and don't take kindly to big city outsiders imposing on them. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad place. Quite the opposite, actually. But for a big city outsider like Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) coming to town for personal reasons, it takes some adjusting. Fortunately for Drew, if only in this regard, he was recently fired from his highfalutin job at a major designer athletic shoe company, so he has all the time in the world to "adjust". It seems his pet project was met with zero enthusiasm by the general public (it was not just a failure, but a "fiasco", as he puts it), at the cost of over $80,000,000 to the company. Suicidally despondent (but in a funny way), alone in his apartment (ala "The Apartment"), the boy sat until his father took it upon himself to call Drew out of his funk, and to Elizabethtown in a most unique way – by dying. With his job gone, his father dead, and his girlfriend (Jessica Biel) out of the picture (guess I forgot to mention that one), what better time for a rambling, self-realizing road trip across America, accompanied by a brilliantly eclectic rock soundtrack? Maybe Elizabethtown isn't the point of this story, but it makes for one heck of a destination - not to mention one heck of a movie.
"Elizabethtown" feels like a tremendously personal recounting from writer/director Cameron Crowe, and as it turns out, it is. This shouldn't be surprising, since Crowe has been known to be unapologetically autobiographical with his film work, most notably in 2000's "Almost Famous". Nor should it be surprising that Crowe seems out to evoke the spirit of the late great writer/director Billy Wilder, considering that he released an interview book about him ("Conversations with Wilder") in 1999 (in which he often refers to Wilder as his cinematic hero). More-so perhaps than even "Jerry McGuire", this is Crowe's apparent attempt at making a Billy Wilder film. (An attempt that is more successful than his previous film, the under-rated "Vanilla Sky", which seems to be his attempt at making a David Lynch film.) Bloom, for the first time putting his usual old world sword and horse aside in exchange for a modern world suitcase and sports car, makes a better Crowe stand-in than a newfangled Jack Lemmon, but female lead Kirsten Dunst certainly channels Shirley MacLaine's chipper spunk in her own blunt-but-spontaneous fashion (to keep with "The Apartment" analogy). Susan Sarandon joins Frances McDormand in the very small club of actresses who have doubled for Crowe's mother onscreen, and Alec Baldwin does a dry comedic twist on his "Glengarry Glen Ross" business-world intensity. All are more than sufficient in their roles, and make the over-two-hour road trip a pleasure to be along for.
If there are frustrating aspects to "Elizabethtown", they lie shockingly close to its strengths. Perhaps this, like "Almost Famous", is a hair too self-indulgently autobiographic for its own good. Maybe its rambling journey of true-to-life emotional highs and lows is a bit too erratically stylized by its wunderkind helmer. Quirky characters and nutty-but-believable situations are accompanied by the now-expected just-right Crowe-formula rock music. And just when we wish this warm and fuzzy journey would never end… it doesn't. It's all almost too good to be true, and vice versa. But this is what we get with Cameron Crowe, one of the few true cinema auteurs (to use a title that has been rampantly misused) working in the American studio system, and I for one am glad that he is allowed to make such personal character films, even if he is the most likeable self-indulgent filmmaker working today. His latest film is not the fiasco he apparently feels at least one of his recent works was received as. (Really, did he pull that amount of $80,000,000 out of thin air? Box office duds "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky" had to cost at least that much to make.)
So get a date, preferably a fun-loving perky one, grab your favorite life affirming mix CD, hop in the car, and head out to "Elizabethtown". And after that, you might even consider continuing the journey to Elizabethtown. Just mind your manners when you get there.
- Jim Tudor
Joined: 02 June 2005
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