Athletic shoe designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) was on the top of his game until his latest effort, the Spasmotic, was recalled to the tune of $972 million dollars - which rounds off, according to his boss, company owner Phil De Voss (Alec Baldwin), to an even billion. About to be lambasted in the business mags, Drew learns that his father has died in his Kentucky hometown and is called upon by his mother (Susan Sarandon) to retrieve the body and bring his dad back to Oregon. On the red-eye flight to Louisville, bored and bubbly flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst) takes him under her wing and shows Drew that he can put his professional fiasco and personal loss in a positive perspective in “Elizabethtown.”
Director Cameron Crowe has been on the fast track since his feature-directing debut in 1989 with “Say Anything.” He continued his streak with such successes as “Gerry Maguire” and his Oscar winner (for screenplay), “Almost Famous.” But, he falters badly with his messy, not-sure-what-it-wants-to-be “Elizabethtown,” a film that doesn’t know if it’s a road trip, son-finding-father-after-death flick or quirky romance.
Drew, dazed by the double whammy of his billion-dollar mistake and his dad’s death, tells Claire (and everyone else). “I’m fine,” but she can see through his façade. She moves him into first-class on the near-empty flight and begins to help him come to grips with his woes. She gives him detailed driving instructions when they land and, more important, her cell phone number. He arrives at his uncle’s home and everyone treats him as the prodigal son. (The news of his business failure hasn’t hit the presses, yet,)
It’s early in the film but things start to branch out and the story becomes stories. There’s the family gathering where everyone is kind and quirky and all express their love for Drew’s dad, Mitch. Then there is the hotel where Drew is staying – with a huge wedding party, occupying most of the hotel, which seems to spend as much time partying before the wedding as most couples do for their honeymoon. Of course, sweet and lovable Claire has to be in the picture (one of the topics of this mess is the romance), beginning with an interminable cell phone conversation between her and Drew that I guess is supposed to be a throwback to the old Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies. Then, there is Drew’s road trip to enlightenment and closure over his father’s unexpected death. Sprinkled throughout are many classic rock songs, typical of Crowe, and a very trite cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”
All of this hyperbole, though well cast with veteran talents, has an artificial, manufactured feel despite the fact that it is based, as much of director/writer Cameron Crowe’s work is, on his experiences coping with his own father’s death. The different episodes, with Drew sort of the focus, never develop into anything that even vaguely compels. A major reason for this problem is Orlando Bloom.
Bloom is usually quite serviceable in his varied, mostly period roles but, here, sporting a generic American accent, the actor appears distracted. It’s as if he is totally concentrating on sounding the Yank and forgot how to act. This is a disappointing performance.
Kristen Dunst, who can light the screen up with her charming smile, puts on the wattage (especially to veteran cinematographer John Toll’s lens) and does, initially, capture you. Unfortunately, Claire’s bubbly enthusiasm wears thin quickly, mainly due to the silly, often pointless script. Much of Dunst “presence” is done via voiceover narration during Drew’s life-affirming road trip, something that is hard to do well and is cloying here.
The supporting cast is stranded in bad script limbo. When you have someone the status of Susan Sarandon, the widow, doing a standup comedy routine and tap dance at her husband’s eulogy – remember, he just died – you have some very bad choices made by the filmmaker Crowe. Others, like veteran actor Bruce McGill, seem to just want to be elsewhere. I guess “Elizabethtown” is supposed to be whimsically funny but comes across as pathetically engineered.
Production designer Clay A. Griffith does a stoic job in giving the film’s different environs unique and varied looks. He should have had the chance to make the effort with a better film.
I came out of “Elizabethtown” with one question: what’s the point? I still haven’t figured that out. I give it a D.
Laura did not see this film.
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