2006-07-17 14:34


Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) has had better days. His daring design for "the next big thing" in sports shoes has flopped, losing his company nearly a billion dollars. In the middle of his preparations for a creative suicide, his sister calls - his father has died while on a trip to his hometown of Elizabethtown. Drew's mother, Hollie (Susan Sarandon), dispatches him to deal with the funeral arrangements, and he finds himself the only passenger on a flight to Kentucky. On board he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a relentlessly perky and helpful stewardess who irritates him at first, but who he can't seem to forget. Once in Elizabethtown Drew is overwhelmed by hordes of wacky relatives, all of whom seem to have known his father better than he did. At the same time he stumbles into a hesitant romance with Claire, who seems determined to show him what life is really all about.


On paper Elizabethtown looks like a brilliant movie: another quirky, heartfelt comedy-drama by writer director Cameron Crowe, the man who delighted both audiences and critics with films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. On paper Elizabethtown has a charming and talented cast, an award winning crew, a great setting and a superb soundtrack.

But on screen Elizabethtown just doesn't work. It creaks along painfully, shuddering and spewing out false notes, before eventually grinding to a halt and falling to pieces. On screen all Crowe's great ideas and good intentions do nothing but grate - as though the whole movie is just one step behind the pace.

Why does Elizabethtown fail so dismally to win our hearts and minds? It's hard to put a finger on exactly what is wrong, since the failure is more in the overall execution than in the specifics, but one major problem is the lack of connection between the actors and the script. Both Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst seem to be trying out their lines - feeling them out as though they don't quite understand them. Given the right script this uncertain tempo might be effective, but when matched with Crowe's pseudo-quirky earnestness the dialogue slams into our ears like slabs of lead.

Another stumbling block is the movie's unmistakable need for approval. Like an over-eager puppy dog, Crowe's film bombards us with zany ideas and quirky characters, desperately hoping we will fall in love with it. And, just like a puppy, it eventually starts to wear you out.

This relentless loveable-ness wouldn't be nearly as bad if the film didn't simultaneously try to be ironic and make wry, witty observations on "the ways things really are". It's as though Crowe wants to emulate the diffuse charm and poignancy of Zach Braff's superb Garden State but without any of those nasty hard edges.

The movie does have some saving graces. As with most of Crowe's work it looks absolutely fabulous. Cinematographer (and long time Crowe collaborator) John Toll paints the movie in glowing, golden tones that are a pleasure to behold. He and Crowe do a particularly good job on the distinctive Kentucky landscape, lending it that slightly mythological aura that is the hallmark of Crowe's work.

The soundtrack is - predictably - superb. Whatever might be said about Crowe, his God given good taste, along with his years as a music journalist (most famously at Rolling Stone), have lent him an uncanny ability to pick exactly the right tune for a scene. It's a pity then that the music isn't enough to rescue Elizabethtown. Most of the time you find yourself listening to the music instead of the scene - since it's the most interesting thing going on at the time.

But pretty pictures and nice songs aren't enough to make the film worth watching. At over two hours long it is nothing short of indulgent - particularly considering how little actually happens. There's a lot to be said for subtle, slow moving human drama - not every film needs epic significance - but there's nothing subtle about Elizabethtown. Its gambit to win our affections wouldn't be nearly so insulting if it wasn't so obvious and clumsy. No-one likes to kick a puppy, but that doesn't mean you have to let it mess in your bedroom.

- Alistair Fairweather

A rambling mishmash of comedy, tragedy and romance that goes absolutely nowhere, and takes more than two hours getting there. It's like one of those dreary anecdotes that aren't funny unless you were there.

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