Monday, October 17, 2005

"Elizabethtown" is one
long, painful road trip

I'm virtually certain that if I ever met Cameron Crowe, I would like him a lot. Actually, after seeing intimate films like "Say Anything" and the nearly perfect "Almost Famous," I kind of feel like I already know him.

But as it is with every friend, there comes the painful, awkward moment when you have to tell them that something they've clearly worked very hard on, and poured their heart into, simply isn't any good. So, it truly pains me to say that "Elizabethtown" is simply awful.

The flaws are too many to list, but I'll do my best. The primary problem is that our lead characters, played by Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, are vacuous, annoying people. The kind you would run into a burning building to get away from.

Sure, they look good. I would probably enjoy watching Dunst eat a peanut butter sandwich, and the ladies obviously love Bloom. That Crowe made them so loathsome is somewhat of an accomplishment, though not one to be lauded.

The story is a familiar one, most of it, in fact, ripped from Crowe's previous movies. At the onset, in pure "Jerry Maguire" fashion, we see Bloom's Drew Baylor finding out he is responsible for costing his shoe company $1 billion, and ready to kill himself. This is all spilt out so fast that you have no time to decide if the world would miss him.

From there he has to go back to the title town in Kentucky because his father has died. We meet the supposedly colorful characters from this stock Southern brood so fast that I couldn't tell you one of their names. It was, however, nice to see Loudon Wainwright III again as an uncle.

I guess Dunst's Claire, a stewardess he meets on the trip down there, is meant to be some kind of angel. Why she cares about him except, of course, that he looks like Orlando Bloom, is never explained.As these two "connect" in an all-night cell-phone encounter, you'll want to claw your eyes out just to feel something real. Bloom looks vaguely disinterested throughout, a kind of vacant gaze that, I guess, should show he is in pain. I know I was.

During Drew's Southern adventure, you'll see scenes that appear to be ripped straight out of "Almost Famous." The wedding party in Drew's hotel tries in vain to re-create the electricity that was found in the hedonism of those rock 'n' rollers in "Famous," and you'll just cringe as Susan Sarandon, as Drew's mother, does Kate Hudson's forlorn solo dance from "Famous," this time as a supposedly cathartic act at her husband's funeral. It's unwatchable.

There are moments of pure joy among the ruins of "Elizabethtown," reminders that Crowe was, and surely will be again, a great writer and director. You'll laugh out loud when you see the words KISS forever in the oddest place, and the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute at the funeral is priceless.

I've heard that Crowe made about 20 minutes of cuts after "Elizabethtown" got a harsh reception at the Toronto Film Festival. He didn't go nearly far enough. The last 20 minutes of the final cut, Drew's meaningless road trip through the American South, could also have been chopped off and would have been an improvement.

Please, Mr. Crowe, don't take this the wrong way. As we're reminded more than once in voice-overs in "Elizabethtown," "there is a difference between a failure and a fiasco." Well, you've made your fiasco, and there's nowhere to go but up.

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