Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cameron Crowe Can't Cut A Break From My Critiques With Elizabethtown

The Good: One or two random lines, Overall concept
The Bad: PACING, Execution of concept, acting, Characters
The Basics: Despite some moments of interesting concept, Elizabethtown is a wreck that oscillates between painfully obvious and dreadfully drawn out.

You know how when you hear a new word, you start to hear it everywhere? There's no word in English for that outside "coincidence" and that does not adequately describe the phenomenon. It's one of those quirks of random existence. Recently, I reviewed one of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' more obscure albums (Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)) and I found the superlative track to be a song I had not heard before called "It'll All Work Out." Wouldn't you know that when I sat down to watch the movie Elizabethtown the running theme throughout it was that song! It was the sole pleasant surprise of the movie.

Drew Baylor, having failed spectacularly with costing a gigantic shoe company almost a billion dollars with a product that was recalled, is about to kill himself when he receives a call from his sister. His father has died in Kentucky and Drew is charged with going to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to deal with the family there and get the body put in a blue suit and cremated. What follows is a chance meeting with a lonely airline attendant and Drew being dragged through his extended family which is pretty much a nightmarish stereotype of family reunions.

Much of the movie follows the quasi-relationship between Drew and Claire, the airline attendant. Claire is outgoing enough to get Drew's attention and while he is in Elizabethtown, the two begin a relationship over their cell phones. And the movie continues to dance around whether they are in a relationship or not and what the nature of that relationship is.

Elizabethtown is a painful movie to watch in that it is essentially decent at doing one thing; creating a realistic circumstance. The idea behind Elizabethtown, returning to a father's home town to bury him and thus learn about him and yourself, is not a bad one. The idea of a romance in such a circumstance is not a bad idea, either. The problem here is that Elizabethtown is too real on the former, too formulaic on the latter. When Elizabethtown drops Drew into the South two things happen. The first is there are long stretches where nothing happens. This is neither funny nor entertaining. This is the reason there aren't movies wherein a character balances their checkbook in real-time, a concept no one has broken to writer/director Cameron Crowe. So there are long stretches of Elizabethtown that plod along like watching mold grow on cheese.

The second problem is exacerbated by the first. Crowe wisely tries to pack a lot of information into the formation of the relationship between Drew and Claire. Their telephone conversation that is encapsulated over the course of a minute or two representing one very long night has a variety of topics and the exchanges "read" as very real. Unfortunately, it requires an insane amount of suspension of disbelief for the viewer to then believe - especially as Drew is drinking a lot over that night - that the tragic circumstance of his losing the shoe manufacturer a billion dollars does not come up before the almost end of the movie. Equally important is that the emphasis placed on trying to define their relationship pretty much telegraphs the direction the movie will go in.

Outside the poor execution of a generally decent idea, the movie is a terrible use of the lead actors. Orlando Bloom plays Drew and from the first moments he appeared on screen through the end of the movie, my thought was not that Orlando Bloom was Drew or even Orlando Bloom was playing Drew, but rather Orlando Bloom was playing Neil Patrick Harris as Drew. Bloom's mannerisms are easily identifiable as Neil Patrick Harris's and it's disturbing to watch, much the way Jim Carrey's portrayal of The Riddler in Batman Forever (reviewed here!) harkened to the style of Matthew Frewer. Bloom brings nothing to the role and instead, his performance falls flat.

Bloom might have chemistry with the Claire lead, Kirsten Dunst, but I didn't see it. Dunst is playing a character that is just too annoying to watch. And she plays Claire with a sickly sweet smile on her face throughout, which just makes the part even more difficult to stomach. I continued watching Elizabethtown and wondering, "What is her alleged talent?" I haven't seen it yet, to my memory.

To be fair, Claire is not the strongest character. Quirky for the sake of quirky doesn't work for me any more than funny mustaches for the purpose of funny mustaches. But even more problematic than Claire is Drew. The audience is meant to believe Drew is so distraught over his professional situation that he is willing to kill himself. If one buys that, which is hard given how lightly he seems to be taking it, it is almost impossible to believe that the sudden death of his father on that same day would not throw him over the edge, as opposed to pull him back from it. Because the movie so early mortgages the real jeopardy of the protagonist, the audience feels immediately cheated.

My final comment on Elizabethtown centers on the use of Susan Sarandon, who plays Drew's mother in a role I would classify more as a cameo than a supporting role. Sarandon is used to deliver some of the most obvious, ridiculous and insultingly stupid lines of the movie and my heart goes out to her for this. I'm assuming she took the role because Cameron Crowe had some sort of dirt on her. Or had one of her children locked in a basement. Otherwise, I can't fathom why she would subject herself or her career to this movie.

And I can think of no truly decent reason for you to subject yourself to it, either.

For other works with Judy Greer, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Descendants
Love And Other Drugs
Peep World
The Big Bang Theory - Season 3
Love Happens
American Dreamz
Arrested Development
The Wedding Planner
What Women Want
Three Kings


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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