Elizabethtown (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Following scathing audience reaction to a "work copy" of Elizabethtown shown at several major late-summer film festivals, writer/director Cameron Crowe went back to the drawing board, paring down the 138-minute "director's cut" to a slightly more manageable 125 minutes. However, having seen both versions, I can state that the elimination of 13 minutes does not address the film's chief flaws. At best, it's a cosmetic fix. The theatrical edition of Elizabethtown, while shorter than its film festival sibling, does not represent a significant improvement.

The central problem with Elizabethtown is that, by trying to cram too much into its two-hour running time, it feels disjointed and poorly focused, and ends up seeming a least twice as long as it actually is. Somewhere in there, there's a good movie struggling to escape, but Crowe has buried it under layers of family drama clich├ęs and scenes that go on too long or don't work. What's sad is that Elizabethtown contains two great sequences (an all-night telephone call between two people caught "in the moment" during the first blossom of new love and a road trip through the American South), but it's tough to generate much enthusiasm because they are suffocated by inferior detritus.

Several weeks after being the toast of his company, hotshot Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) has been brought back to Earth. Hard. The pet project he developed for his footwear company, the Spasmotica, is about to cost Mercury Shoes $972 million. Needless to say, Drew no longer has a job. At the same time, his father dies while visiting relatives out east. Drew travels to Kentucky while his mother (Susan Sarandon) and sister (Judy Greer) remain at home in Oregon to deal with their grief in other ways. On the cross-country flight, Drew strikes up a friendship with chatty stewardess Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst). Later, after a trying day of meeting with his extended family members, he calls Claire and they click in a more meaningful way than they did on the plane. Thus begins Drew's healing - patching over romantic heartache with a new relationship, and getting to know his aunt, uncle, cousin, and the town where his father grew up. By connecting with Elizabethtown, Drew re-connects with his dead dad.

Remove the uncle and aunt. Cut out the sub-plot with the cousin. And, as painful as it may be, reduce Susan Sarandon's part to that of a glorified cameo. Her ten minute standup routine brings the film to a screeching halt. It belongs elsewhere (probably as a deleted scene on the DVD). At 30 minutes shorter, Elizabethtown might approach the level of his "lesser" efforts, Singles and Vanilla Sky. Not his best work, but better than a lot of what's out there in the marketplace. Crowe's strength lies in developing romantic relationships, whether it's the two young lovers of Say Anything, the "You complete me" pair of Jerry Maguire, or the William/Penny Lane flirtation of Almost Famous. The best parts of Elizabethtown are those when Crowe is focusing on the growing attachment between Drew and Claire. That should be at the heart of the movie, bookended by the scenes of Drew's flameout (at the beginning) and his redemptive road trip (at the end). Everything else - the mending of family relations, getting to know his cousin, setting up his father's memorial service - is padding. It's not original or well-written, and it will cause less patient viewers to zone out.

Orlando Bloom is "vanilla." He doesn't give Crowe much to work with. Kirsten Dunst is better, but she's a little too "innocent cute." The pairing generates some lightweight romantic vibes, but no serious sexual tension. I can't help but wonder what would have happened had two more intense actors - say, Elijah Wood and Scarlett Johansson - been cast. Nevertheless, I think Bloom and Dunst would have been fine had Elizabethtown resisted the urge to cut away from them every time things get interesting.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the soundtrack. In the past, Crowe has been lauded for his ability to wed rock music to visual images and create memorable cinematic moments (Say Anything's "In Your Eyes," Almost Famous' "Tiny Dancer," etc.). However, Elizabethtown suffers from music overload. It's as if, burdened by his reputation, Crowe felt obligated to cram in as many music bytes as possible. Is this a movie or an advertisement for the soundtrack CD?

Cameron Crowe has such a great track record that Elizabethtown has to be considered a major disappointment. This is far from a bad film, but it is sloppily assembled and, viewed optimistically, represents a mixed bag. This is the kind of movie that's best watched at home on a DVD, where the closeness of the fast forward button will prove comforting during some of Elizabethtown's long-winded and trying sequences.

Elizabethtown (United States, 2005)

Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Alec Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Jessica Biel
Screenplay: Camerone Crowe
Cinematography: John Toll
Music: Nancy Wilson
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1