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It's Crowe's world, after all

A review of Elizabethtown

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Its Hot and Hotter in Cameron Crowes new flick, - Elizabethtown.
  • Its Hot and Hotter in Cameron Crowes new flick, Elizabethtown.

Elizabethtown (PG-13)

I want to live in a world written and directed by Cameron Crowe. CroweWorld is a place where guys are concerned about integrity, and where women are an improbable mixture of hotness and coolness.

Crowe himself seems to want to live in CroweWorld, as well. At least, that might explain Elizabethtown. His gentle humanism in the face of life's tumult previously has felt grounded in reality. Elizabethtown feels like the work of a filmmaker who has spent most of his life locked in a room watching his own movies.

His decent, confused protagonist here is Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), who has just experienced a Jerry Maguire-sized career flameout. A product designer for a shoe company, Drew has taken the fall for a cataclysmically failed new product launch.

He's actually ready to kill himself when he receives a call that his father has died while visiting his hometown of Elizabethtown, Ky., and that he needs to fly out there to set affairs in order. The only ray of sunshine comes from chatty flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who soon never is far from Drew's life.

If the premise sounds familiar, it's probably because you saw it last year in Zach Braff's Garden State. Braff clearly also wants to live in CroweWorld, but his take on this subject was more stylized and ironic. Crowe is so sincere you suspect he might think "irony" is a household chore performed on clothing.

The guy's got heart by the truckload, and moments of pure romanticism give Elizabethtown its biggest boosts. In a nearly perfect sequence, Drew and Claire bond during an all-night telephone conversation, crisply edited to convey that spark of discovering someone new and wonderful and never wanting the moment to end.

If Crowe had managed to find a way to connect Elizabethtown's touches of bliss with a clearer sense of purpose, it might have been transcendent. But he meanders around thematically, at times grappling with tangled father-son connections, then drifting over to grief awkwardly manifested by Drew's mother (Susan Sarandon), then wandering back to Drew, wallowing in self-pity.

Even Crowe's trademarks begin to fold in upon themselves. The musical moments that always have given the former rock journalist's works a special electricity -- Say Anything's "In Your Eyes" boom box; Almost Famous' "Tiny Dancer" sing-along -- never quite come together. The sheer magnitude of songs makes you feel like you're listening to an internal mix tape you can't shut off.

Yet for all that, it's hard to be angry at a Cameron Crowe movie. There's affection in nearly every frame, and he manages too many great bits, such as Alec Baldwin's cameo as Drew's boss. CroweWorld simply loses its firm orbit around our own world and spins off to another place. Actually living in it -- which once only felt like an improbable dream -- now feels impossible.

-- Scott Renshaw

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