October 28, 2005

Amateur Movie Review: Elizabethtown

While it may seem that the Missus and I don’t go to movies anymore, that isn’t the case. I just never get around to finishing my reviews of them. Halfway completed reviews exist of Serenity, and… umm…In Her Shoes.
Elizabethtown is the latest work by Cameron Crowe. In the interests of fairness I must note that I love Crowe’s movies. Any list of Frinklin’s Top 10 is bound to include Almost Famous and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with Singles and Say Anything right outside. That said, his last picture, the unfortunate Vanilla Sky, was totally and truly awful. Elizabethtown is an improvement, but not quite a return to form. It is very much a rambling, unfocused movie that covers some territory that Crowe has explored enough.

Orlando Bloom, in a better than usual performance, plays Drew Baylor, a young executive with a shoe company obviously based on Nike. Drew is a spectacular failure; the head of a project that will cost the company millions, perhaps billions of dollars. After falling on his sword by taking the blame in a Financial Times-like magazine, Drew decides to do it for real and kill himself. He’s all set when he gets a call from his sister. His father has died suddenly while visiting family in Kentucky. Drew is sent to retrieve the body. He agrees, fully planning on suicide upon his return. Along the way he meets cute with flight attendant Claire, played by Kirstin Dunst. After arriving in Louisville he meets his family, realizes how much they loved his father and various hijinks occur.

There are parts of this movie that are depressingly familiar. Bloom, despite his oddly feminine good looks, is basically the everyman character present in all Crowe movies from Lloyd Dobler on down. Dunst is all cute-n-quirky; at some moments in the film she practically channels Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane. The soundtrack is vast, but somehow underwhelming, like it’s a snippet of modern stuff (a lot of Ryan Adams) and various hidden chestnuts. Just like Almost Famous there is an emotional scene using a forgotten Elton John track. Then it was “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, now it’s “My Father’s Gun”. The movie also drags at times. Supposedly reedited after a disastrous debut at the Toronto Film Festival, with 18 minutes lopped off, there are still two moments where the movie seems to end… but doesn’t. Not only that, but there are multiple scenes where you think “this should be over by now, but it isn’t”. Making matters worse is Crowe’s inability to cut from a scene. There are many times where he holds on just a few moments too long. The memorial scene for Drew’s father, with Susan Sarandon’s tap-dancing and comedy routine is most prevalent. Yes, I said tap and comedy. There is also a performance of “Freebird”. Don’t ask.

Not everything is bad about this movie. There are moments, lots of them really, where the script shines. Crowe is a master at small, human moments, and Elizabethtown is no different. It’s expertly cast too. Bloom does some of his best work in the beginning, where Drew is mostly disconnected. His performance suffers through the weirdly hesitant-yet-rushed feel of Drew’s “coming alive” sequences. Dunst is fine, if somewhat derivative. Crowe does a very nice job of never really answering any of the questions about her character. Does her boyfriend Ben even exist? Drew doesn’t know, and neither do we. Sarandon is somewhat wasted in a scatterbrained role that should have been cut down.

This is a big, sprawling movie; So much so that the final scenes are an epic road trip from Kentucky-to-Oregon. Again, it’s unnecessary. Crowe does better in smaller moments. One has to wonder how good this movie could have been with a more coherent direction and feel. As it stands, its good, but only Crowe devotees will love it.

Posted by Frinklin at October 28, 2005 07:12 PM | TrackBack
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