Remember the old saying that every dog has its day? Well, in the movieworld, every reputable filmmaker has his or her dog. Stanley Kubrick hadBarry Lyndon, Steven Spielberg is guilty of both 1941 andHook, while Alfred Hitchcock finished his career with the ratherunderwhelming Family Plot. Cameron Crowe joins this club withElizabethtown.
Orlando Bloom plays Drew, a hotshot sneaker designer who, at thebeginning of the film, is about to get the ultimate comeuppance: the dreamsneaker he designed is about to cost his company a billion dollars in lostsales. As if that isn’t enough to ruin his day, his girlfriend Ellen(Jessica Biel) is about to dump him and he is about to learn that his fatherhas passed away.
En route to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to retrieve the body for cremationas well as meet his relatives and large amount of family acquaintances, Drewmeets a stewardess named Claire (Kirsten Dunst). Starting with a series ofdirections to help get Drew from the airport to Elizabethtown, thequick-witted young woman soon becomes the shoe designer’s guide and solesource of sanity over the next few tumultuous days.
After delivering such great films as Say Anything, JerryMaguire, Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous (1992’sSingles is slight but fun), it’s difficult not to expect Crowe todeliver another winner here. All of the traditional elements that shaped hisother movies into winners are here, such as a talented ensemble cast and agreat music soundtrack. The only problem is that when the fundamentals cometogether, they don’t shape into a decent movie.
Elizabethtown has a ton of story threads that are never fullydeveloped, characters that are remarkably thin, an overdose of failedsentimentality and scenes intended to be funny that wind up beingcringe-inducing at best (Exhibit A: Susan Sarandon’s standup routine at herlate husband’s memorial). All of this culminates in a tedious cross-countryroad trip Drew undertakes at the end, a section Crowe should have taken apair of scissors to when he edited approximately 15 minutes out of footageat the last minute.
Augmenting the deficiencies in Crowe’s writing is his directing. Failingto find or keep a consistent tone or true identity for the film, one sitsand wonders just what he had in mind, and what exactly is it all supposed tobe about: is it a story about familial relationships? Is it an examinationof relationships between fathers and sons? Is it a romantic comedy? Is it afilm about being on the road to self-discovery and enlightenment? The mindwonders.
At this point, I doubt any director out there could get a decentperformance out of Orlando Bloom that requires him to speak more than fivelines of dialogue, so the blame for his ineffective performance can be splitbetween director and star (it could have been worse. Crowe could have stuckwith choice number one: Aston Kutcher). Sarandon and Greer come off asirritating, while Biel only impresses on a visual level. Only Dunst and AlecBaldwin, as Drew’s boss, manage to make any sort of positive impression.
I have no doubt that Cameron Crowe, one of the better voices in cinematoday, will rebound with his next effort. Until then, the only way oneshould visit Elizabethtown, short of actually taking a trip there, isto buy the soundtrack CD and skip the film.