© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Bruce McGrill, Judy Greer, Paul Schneider
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some sexual references
Running time: 123 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total Score – 7.6 out of 10
Since the Oscar-nominated JERRY MCGUIRE, writer-director Cameron Crowe has given us slices of the American pie with some hits and some misses. ELIZABETHTOWN follows the same quirky path after his long hiatus since VANILLA SKY failed at the box office.
Drew Baylor (Bloom) is a hotshot shoe designer whose flagship design just costs the company $956 million. Fired and humiliated by what he calls a “fiasco” and not just “failure,” Drew is about to kill himself when his sister (Greer) calls and tells him his father has died while visiting his hometown, Elizabethtown, KY. Drew promises his shocked mother-in-denial (Sarandon) that he would bring his father home.
On the red-eye flight to Kentucky, the defeated Drew meets a perky, observant flight attendant, Claire (Dunst). Claire seems to have a way of seeing through Drew even though he tries so desperately to hide his pain. In the following week, as Drew deals with his long forgotten relatives and his father’s past, he forms a strange, almost-a-romance bond with Claire. Through it all, Drew begins to see where he is heading in life.
Bloom (KINGDOM OF HEAVEN), in his first contemporary leading role, is very likeable as the downtrodden Drew. His performance is affecting and true, full of nuances for a young actor who was virtually a newbie only four years ago. Dunst (WINBLEDON), on the other, is an old pro. She seems to have a knack for playing free-spirited, perky ingénues. Here, her spunk makes for an interesting counterpoint to Bloom’s broodiness. Both she and Bloom are still unproven properties in Hollywood; after this film, perhaps things will change for them.
The supporting cast play an eclectic group of characters, headed by Sarandon (ALFIE) as Drew’s mother Hollie. She’s always an actor’s actor, and she puts in her all for this relatively brief and small role. She’s particularly touching in one bizarre scene where she tells jokes about her late husband, then proceeds to tap dance to Moon River. The prolific Baldwin (AVIATOR) can probably sleepwalk through his brief role as Drew’s unforgiving boss. McGill (CINDERELLA MAN) plays an old friend with equal amount of slime and sincerity. Greer (CURSED) is underused as Drew’s grieving, neurotic sister, but Schneider (CRUDE) makes a good impression as Drew’s slacker cousin Jessie.
Crowe has a gift for creating interesting, deeply flawed and introspective characters. And through his characters’ eyes, we get to see some very unique worldviews. Sometimes, though, his quirky characters and situations border on being absurd and surreal. I think after a while it can lose its grips on reality. There are many memorable moments, though. I think how Drew and Claire really bond, over cell phones, is really cute and touching. There are some very interesting characters such as Jessie, but then there are also superficial ones simply there for comic relief.
Crowe is also very deft in creating his moods using just the right kind of popular music. The soundtrack and the road trip theme somehow pay tribute to his earlier, critically-acclaimed film, ALMOST FAMOUS. One of the strengths of this film is the use of music with very creative imageries. Sure, Crowe pulls out all the stops to try to make us cry and laugh at the same time. Sometimes the film feels manipulative, but sometimes genuine. I think that’s one of its problems – it’s uneven. And we pretty much know where the story is heading. Even so, it’s really about the journey, isn’t it? The ride is fun and ELIZABETHTOWN is a delightful and touching destination.