To know how to begin discussing this movie it's important to be fully aware of Cameron Crowe's directing style. What makes his works so powerful is their ability to exhibit emotion with sentimentality. What I mean is he can make one film encompass an array of feelings that make you think to yourself, ‘wow, I've felt just like that!' and at the same time cause you to attribute that feeling for the rest of your life with his scenes. Take Almost Famous or Say Anything for instance. Watching everyone sing "Tiny Dancer" on a bus or John Cusack hold a radio over his head to woo Ione Skye with the loving sounds of Peter Gabriel is forever embedded into your brain. Admit it. And while you've never been a 14 year old music journalist kidnapped by a rock band, or stood outside your highschool sweetheart's bedroom window with a boombox, chances are, you still know what it's like to feel a euphoric unity among friends, or be in complete longing for a lost love. And that, my friends, is the power of Crowe's work.
So with all this in mind, it's easier to point out exactly what's wrong with Elizabethtown. Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor a young inventor for a shoe company whose project causes a one billion dollar loss for the corporation (a "fiasco" of mythic proportions that I don't think anyone in the movie fully seems to comprehend…ever) and in the middle of his completely ridiculous suicide attempt he receives the call that his father has just died. Bloom actually does a good job of playing a man who feels completely defeated, until he journeys to Kentucky to bring back his father's remains and meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst) a down right annoying flight attendant who, for reasons very unclear, decides he's the perfect candidate to smother in her free-spirited pointless banter spewing lifestyle. Then, as if by magic, his melancholia turns to some form of emotional repression. Apparently when you lose your job it makes you sad, but when your father dies it makes you ambivalent. How or why he goes from suicidal to complete stoicism is still a mystery, but nonetheless this becomes the predicament for our young star for the duration of the movie.
Duration is an issue as well for this film. While the movie clocks in at only 2 hours and 3 minutes, it heavily drags in pace particularly because of Crowe's lack of ability to capture what he has been so famous for doing. As mentioned before, although he's has been able to render audiences to complete sentimental mush with a few words and an Elton John song playing in the background, nothing as powerful exists in this film. It merely attempts to become a copy of his past successes. The dialogue wanders around with bland wit in an attempt say what it just can't seem to fit into a nice little phrase.
Even with his movies like Vanilla Sky, which took far turns off the road of believability, Crowe was able to make you feel the pain of rejection, the consequences of selfishness, and the desperation of love. With the right cinematography and the correct words in place, it didn't seem to matter that Tom Cruise just woke up 100 years later in a cryogenic freezer, but Bloom and Dunst spend extended scenes falling "in love" over clichéd generalizations about human hopes and fears. "Do you ever feel like you're just fooling everyone?" she asks him. Well the audience can't be fooled. Of course everybody feels that! And if that were all Crowe has ever offered us, we might take it, but we know he can cook up a better dish than that.
And how do we wrap up these tireless scenes that beat around the bush desperately seeking a strong narrative? We watch Bloom go on a road trip driving look-de-loops through Middle America with his fathers ashes in the front seat and Dunst's detailed instruction booklet complete with homemade mix CD's to guide him. "Take 5 minutes for your sadness," she tells him. How genius! For a character that is so well-traveled that she knows every back road and tourist site she apparently missed a very important lesson in the human psyche; that emotions don't run on a set time and the human heart can't be controlled.
But these are the elements that not only make up Elizabethtown, but are the antithesis to all of Crowe's previous hits. Try as hard as it wants, this film cannot emulate its predecessors.
- Curtis LaCombe | 2005-10-17