There are some films that, from the very first time you see the trailer, you just know are going to annoy you. There’s such an air of desperation in their attempts to package the film as something breezy and life affirming that, each time you see them, you just want to close your eyes until they go away, all the while rebuking yourself for prejudging them. I’d like to report that this is not the case with Elizabethtown but, alas, it’s every bit as bad as it looks.
Drew Baylor (Bloom) has just been fired from his job as a shoe designer after losing the company $1 billion with his disastrous Spasmotica sneaker. Just to completely ruin his day, his girlfriend dumps him and he gets the news that his father has died. With his mother (Sarandon) unable to cope, it’s left to Drew to fly to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and make all the arrangements. On the way he meets Claire (Dunst), a kooky flight attendant, and over the course of a few days must deal with his loony family as well as developing a relationship with Claire, all the time trying to grieve for a father he barely knew and deciding whether or not he should kill himself when he gets back home.
Elizabethtown fails completely as a comedy (no laughs), as a romance (no chemistry) and as a drama (no conflict). At no time do we believe that Drew is remotely close to committing suicide, what with his total lack of emotion and ridiculous homemade stabbing machine. It’s nowhere near as cute as it thinks it is, with Crowe constantly striving to fool us into thinking that what he’s showing us is whimsical and magical, when in fact it’s smug and artificial.
Cameron Crowe likes to use songs in his films almost as much as Tony Scott likes to edit. There are literally dozens used throughout and the frustrating thing is, every single one of them is sensational. Two hours of listening to music this good is an appealing prospect, if only you didn’t have to look at the self-satisfied images that it’s accompanying.
Not content with his listless, transparent script and contrived direction, Crowe further tests our patience with his inexplicable leading man, the extraordinarily poor Orlando Bloom. He gives the sort of performance that makes you appreciate how an otherwise mediocre film can be lifted just by the presence of a great actor, someone who’s worth watching even when everything around them is ordinary. Gene Hackman does it all the time, so does Morgan Freeman. Bloom is so weak that he makes everything around him seem brilliant, which clearly ain’t the case. Dunst does well not be sucked into his vacuum although, since her character is borderline deranged anyway, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
Sarandon is far and away the best thing in the film, the only person in it to raise a smile or provoke an emotion. She provides the one and only honest and natural scene in the whole film, when her character speaks at her husband’s memorial gathering. Unfortunately, the strength of this scene only serves to draw attention to the inadequacies of the rest of the movie. If it could have ended strongly then there may have been some redemption, but it ends predictably and, worse still, interminably.
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