Dir/scr:Cameron Crowe. US. 2005. 138mins.
Aromantic comedy for the MTV generation with some of that old Kentucky magicthrown in for the oldies, Elizabethtown illustrates the dangers of goingstraight for the feelgood jugular. Feelgood has to be earned. So do the last 48minutes of a 138-minute film. And the overlong Elizabethtown has a basicscript problem that a writer-director as experienced as Cameron Crowe shouldhave ironed out: although there is plenty of humanity, and tenderness, and someperceptive character studies, there's next to no dramatic conflict.
Theproblem is exacerbated by Orlando Bloom's flat, expressionless performance asthe film's romantic lead. This will not bother the teen girls who make up alarge part of Bloom's fanbase, but the rest of us need something more than apretty face in a pretty package.
Audiencesin the mood for an unchallenging slice of home-baked cherry pie served up witha dollop of indie sauce should spend a pleasant enough two-and-a-quarter hours,but don't come to Elizabethtown looking for nouvelle cuisine - not eventhe traditional, three-course nouvelle cuisine of Crowe's best film to date, AlmostFamous.
USaudiences (it opens there on Oct 14) will respond more strongly to the film'snone-too-subtle appeal to solid homeland values, while more cynical Europeansover the age of 16 may find the romance cloying and those country cousins moreirritating than heart-warming. Elizabethtown premiered out ofcompetition at Venice before heading for Toronto.
Theopening 10 minutes are the best thing about Elizabethtown, largelythanks to some peppy writing, sharp editing, and a scene-stealing cameo by AlecBaldwin as Phil, the paternal boss of a huge sports shoe company, who revertsto type when his protege, bright young designer Drew Baylor (Bloom), loses thecompany close on a billion dollars.
Theout-and-out comedy of this opening scene culminates in Drew's attempt to commitsuicide by strapping a knife to an exercise bicycle: an attempt that is foiledby a phone call telling the hapless whizz kid that his father has just died inKentucky - and it's his job to bring the body back to Oregon.
Buthowever funny the botched suicide is on one level, it also contains the kernelof the film's dramatic problems. We don't for a minute believe that Drew is socrushed by failure that he was seriously committing hari-kiri. And thisundermines the power of the healing process begun by a meeting with garrulousairhostess Claire Colburn (Dunst) and continued by Drew's extended family in Elizabethtown,Kentucky.
Thesoundtrack of country-inflected American rock by Tom Petty, Elton John andCrowe's wife Nancy Wilson (of rock band Heart) butts intrusively into theaction every 10 minutes so, turning the film into a music video and accountingfor a good slice of those extra 48 minutes.
Rather,it's left to certain key scenes to carry the drama: an extended sequence inwhich Drew and Claire bond by talking all night to each other on their mobilephones; and another set piece in which Drew's mother Hollie (Sarandon) winsover a roomful of hostile hicks with what amounts to a stand-up comedyperformance at her deceased husband's memorial service.
Dunstis good as the eternal optimist trapped inside her own niceness, but hercharacter's relationship with Drew is too saccharine, too devoid of dramaticshading.
Thereare some hilarious moments - the best being the calming of a hyperactive childby a video called Learning To Listen With Rusty. But much of the comedyfeels derivative - like Drew's self-deprecatory voiceover interaction with theaudience, a trick that was done so much better in High Fidelity.
WhenDrew finally embarks on a road trip through the South, with his father's ashesby his side, it as if the film has decided to fess up to its owninsubstantiality by becoming a pop travelogue.
Donald J Lee Jr
Clay A Griffith