By: Denis Blot
With Elizabethtown, director/writer Cameron Crowe has handed us a story that lovingly displays the absurdities that make up death, life and love. Orlando Bloom’s character of Drew Baylor is impotent for almost the entire first part of the movie. Being fired and labeled as a failure, he lacks the ability to take action or have control over his own life, even failing at a suicide attempt. Drew’s feeling of failure only intensifies as he hears the news of his father’s death, and realizes that he never got to bond with him as an adult. It’s after heading to Elizabethtown for funeral services, and meeting and beginning a courtship with Claire (Kirsten Dunst) that life is restored to Drew. Love allows him to embrace life and realize its importance over his sense of failure.
The whole “love conquers all” concept is not new to Crowe as it appears in some of his other films (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire), however making a film with elements of dark humor and scenes bordering on the absurd is. Indeed, anyone watching this film with the expectations of the typical light hearted wit that normally permeates a Crowe film will find themselves lost in the darkness of the first few scenes, the dark humor simply so unexpected. Likewise the characters, beginning with Drew’s boss Phil (who needs everything in “twos”), are so outlandish that they appear closer to caricatures than real people. Their ridiculous portrayal is both funny (once you accept Crowe’s approach to the film) and necessary to discuss some of the odd actions we carry out in the absurd world we inhabit.
The ideas Crowe establishes in Elizabethtown might have been stronger had he leaned even further towards the bizarre than he had. Instead Crowe falls back to the typical romantic comedy devices he is appreciated for. What results is the sensation of two stories attempted to be brought together. Crowe, with his talent for good writing ultimately succeeds at this task, albeit with a few instances where one’s left wanting to choose one story over another.
Crowe’s ability to create original quirky characters pays off in this film, as we see Drew confront and embrace the various members of Elizabethtown and his dead father’s family. Each has a specific memorable persona that clings to you even after the film is over. Like the familiar high school characters Crowe wrote in his book and screenplay Fast Times at Ridgemont High, we recognize in many of the characters of Elizabethtown the attributes of our own family members and friends and cherish the personalities because of them.
Susan Sarandon’s tap dance routine not withstanding, none of the performances in the film are exceptional. Kirsten Dunst with her priceless dimples lights up the screen a little too often with sugary affection, and Orlando Bloom’s easy conversion from miserable defeatist to life affirming lacks some credibility. None-the-less as these characters are supposed to represent comedic extensions of real people, it is acceptable to embrace Dunst’s flight attendant character lovingly harassing a passenger, or Bloom’s decision to steal beer from a neighboring wedding party’s hotel room.
The DVD extras are not really of much value; two short behind the scenes home movies, one of actors rehearsing, and another of introductions to movie crew members. There are also two extended scenes that that after watching you will be pleased were cut short in the film. A director commentary would certainly have been of interest or at least an extended behind the scenes film focused on Crowe’s direction.
Elizabethtown is certainly worth watching so long as you restrain your Cameron Crowe film expectations. While there are some clichéd moments in the film, Crowe’s writing as always shines through and provides solid entertainment. Those who have seen the film in theatres might want to revisit it as you may well have missed much of the dark humor that is present.