Crowe's uncanny knack for turning up the volume has allowed countless scenes to soar to their potential. One problem nagging Elizabethtown, Crowe's most awkward project to date, is that the director is obligated to crank the knob again and again to overcome bland performances and missed emotional connections. He has assembled another astonishing collection of inspirational rock tracks, but for the first time the soundtrack outshines the accompanying movie by a long shot.
Elizabethtown marks another chapter in Crowe's series of transcendental self-evaluations - where Famous recounted his days spent covering rock bands for Rolling Stone, Elizabethtown loosely details feelings the filmmaker had following his father's death. In the movie, entrepreneurial sneaker designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is wrestling with similar grief after simultaneously blowing a major project at work and losing his dad to a heart attack. On a flight to Kentucky to retrieve the body, Drew meets assertive flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst, falsely cute) and enters a whirlwind relationship that could pull the young man back from the brink.
Crowe and I share a common bond: We both want Elizabethtown to work better than it actually does. The director made headlines after screening a longer cut at the Toronto International Film Festival to lackluster response. Back at the drawing board, he trimmed approximately 18 minutes to refocus attention on Bloom's character and the actor's performance. The movie still feels long. Crowe should have hacked away large chunks of subplot pertaining to a wedding taking place in Drew's hotel. The story appears out of nowhere, spins and falters like an intoxicated couple on New Year's Eve, and advances nothing.
So much of Crowe's magic relies on casting. Could you imagine Famous without Kate Hudson? And yet, the actress - intoxicating under Crowe's direction - hasn't duplicated that success since. It hurts that Elizabethtown rests on Bloom and Dunst. Movie stars by today's standards, they deliver serviceable performances that fall inches short of remarkable. Crowe dooms his most talented cast members to minor roles. Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, and Judy Greer receive a collective 15 minutes of screen time, and they're mishandled when they're visible.
Crowe can't conceal the narrative patches he uses to hold Elizabethtown together, from a cutesy Bloom voiceover that bridges the film's opening minutes (then disappears) to the truncated road-trip finale that ends on an improbable reunion. Sentimental music cues remain the biggest trick in Crowe's bag, and a handful of scenes stand out thanks to the tunes that accompany them. Drew's first appearance at his family's cluttered Kentucky abode is backed by Elton John's swelling "My Father's Gun." A live version of the Southern anthem "Freebird" blisters the movie's crucial memorial service, even if the rest of that supposedly heartfelt scene falls flat on its face. When sung lyrics outshine scripted conversations, your movie is hitting the wrong notes.
TV dinners again?
Run time: 123 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th October 2005
Box Office USA: $26.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $13.5M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Vinyl Films, KMP Film Invest
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 123
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Cameron Crowe
Screenwriter: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Orlando Bloom as Drew Baylor, Kirsten Dunst as Claire Colburn, Susan Sarandon as Hollie Baylor, Alec Baldwin as Phil DeVoss, Bruce McGill as Bill Banyon, Judy Greer as Heather Baylor, Jessica Biel as Ellen Kishmore, Paul Schneider as Jessie Baylor, Jed Rees as Chuck Hasboro, Paula Deen as Aunt Dora, Tim Devitt as Mitch Baylor, Loudon Wainwright III as Uncle Dale
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