Elizabethtown disappoints

by Alan Rapp on October 18, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Elizabethtown
  • IMDB: link

elizabethtown-posterElizabethtown has everything going for it, good stars, a diverse supporting cast, awesome music, and many of Cameron Crowe’s little trademark touches.  So why did I leave the theater so disappointed? 

The more I thought about the film my disappointment turned to anger.  The only story line that hasn’t been stolen from one of his earlier films, the effect of the death of your father, is constantly interrupted by an overly cute love story and a collection of the oddest and nicest group of hicks you will ever meet.  I guess everyone who grew up in Mayberry moved to Elizabehtown.

Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is having a bad week.  First he is fired after some kind of tremendous blunder that has something to do with shoes, his shallow girlfriend (Jessica Biel) leaves him, and his boss (Alec Baldwin) makes him give an interview accepting total responsibility for the failure. 

Drew goes home and contemplates suicide and is only stopped by a phone call from his sister (Judy Greer) telling him their father Mitch (Tim Devitt) has died and Drew needs to head down south to make funeral arrangements and deal with his father’s family in Elizabethtown.  On the flight Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a strange stewardess that takes instant interest in his life and well being and provides him with detailed instructions on how to drive to Elizabethtown and her phone number.  On arriving in Mayberry, I mean Elizabethtown, he meets the Baylor side of the family, but mostly avoids them finding comfort in talking with Claire as their relationship begins to blossom, first on the phone and then in person as she arrives in town.

There are a few things I enjoyed, mostly the supporting performances which are particularly good, especially since many of the characters are one-note and paper thin.  Susan Sarandon and Greer both give very real and very different reactions to the loss of Mitch as the characters rely heavily on Drew.  Also good are Bruce McGill as the family friend, and Baldwin and Biel in their limited time on screen.

Cameron Crowe’s career seems to be on a downturn.  Almost Famous is one of the best films on the last twenty years, and that’s not even my favorite Crowe film (I just love his first flick Say Anything…).  I was not a fan of Vanilla Sky, but Crowe was dealing with someone else’s work and vision and in a different genre than he was used to.  Here though there are no excuses.  This is obviously a Cameron Crowe film, yet somehow it feels as if it was shot by someone else trying to make a Cameron Crowe picture and failing, and he came in only to add the music, which is outstanding by the way but I can spend two hours watching MTV Hits or Classics if all I want is two hours of music videos.  Here the music is used as a crutch to hide the fact that the storyline is substandard, in fact almost all of the films emotional moments become little more than musical montages which you’ve probably already seen in the trailer.

The script was supposedly written with Bloom and Dunst in mind.  I find this mindblowing as it calls for Dunst to be a southern belle.  Now I like Dunst and I can accept her in many roles, but besides the fact that her accent changes periodically throughout the picture, this California girl has no business playing a southern gal.  The set-up for their relationship is far fetched even in movie terms.  I buy their getting to know each other on the phone and getting together, but I never buy him actually making the call that sets it up to this very strange stalkeresk gal he met on a plane.  Could they have gotten together for a short term physical relationship?  Sure, but that’s not what Crowe is setting up, and there in lies one of many, many problems with the film.

The beginning segment of the film is cribbed from Jerry McGuire.  A young guy in a huge firm makes a huge blunder that losses his job and his girl, who cares more about status than standing by her man.  Where Jerry McGuire wanted to kill himself, Drew actually contemplates it, which produces some funny visual images but since his blunder is never truly explained this extreme reaction to it, especially since it continues after he has developed a relationship with Dunst, never really makes sense.  We are told Drew is responsible for losing millions for the company.  Was he the only one working on this project?  And why exactly does he fall on the sword and take total responsibility knowing he will be fired whether he does this or not?

For a guy that’s done as much traveling as Cameron Crowe his version of the South is a little too idyllic and somewhat patronizing.  All I can say is he must own a copy of Doc Hollywood.  There are many things about the small town the movie gets its name from, for instance every living person in the town loved Mitch.  Think about that for a second, tell me anyone you have ever met that everyone knew and loved.  Even the nicest guy ever born is going to have someone who hates him for no other reason than he’s nice.  The woman he left at the alter to go and marry Sarandon’s Hollie even thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Yeah,riiiiiight….  Everyone has that Mayberry feel, except here there isn’t even a town drunk; maybe he locked himself in the town jail to sober up for the duration of the movie.

I laughed, but also squirmed through much of the picture.  There is a moment, 95-100 minutes in where the film I wanted to see actually starts, where the emotion of the movie will finally be dealt with and not ignored and we can get to see the characters work through some extremely moving issues.  Sadly though the entire sequence is condensed into one of the films many long musical montages, and all we really get are short glimpses of what should have been the heart of the picture.

Sometimes you think you’ve judged a movie too harshly and wish to see it again just to give it a second chance.  Part of me had that reaction immeadiately after walking out of the theater, but after a few days where the music faded from my ears and I looked back on the film with clear eyes I knew that I’d like it less on a second viewing.

Now this is not the cut that Crowe showed at Sundance or the cut that will show up as his final director’s cut DVD (which reportedly is around 45 minutes longer).  It may very well be that that longer version makes up for some the dificiences in this picture, but I have to judge the film on what the director/writer and the studio decided to release now, and that is not enough to recommend.  In the LOR trilogy The Two Towers was the weakest of the theatrical releases and yet is the best of all three expanded versions so anything is possible.

The film is still well shot, has some very good supporting performances and and a kick ass soundtrack, but then so did individual episodes of Dawson’s Creek.  I expect much, much more from the director that won my heart with Say Anything… and my deep respect with Almost Famous, and to see him put out something that makes me compare him to a declining M. Night Shyamalan makes me want to cry and throw things.  Hopefully Crowe hasn’t run out of stories to tell and this is just another mis-step, but his reuse of his earlier work and his over reliance on music make me think that perhaps it may be Signs of things to come.

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