I want to live in a world written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Not the world of Vanilla Sky but the world of Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Crowe World is a place where guys are concerned about integrity, and where women are an improbable mixture of hotness and coolness. All the key moments of your life would come with an awesome soundtrack, and even though things might get sprawling and ungainly at times, even the sprawl and ungainliness would have soul.
Crowe himself seems to want to live in Crowe World as well—or at least, that might explain Elizabethtown. While his gentle humanism in the face of life’s tumult has previously felt grounded in reality, Elizabethtown feels like the work of a filmmaker who has spent most of his life locked in a room watching Cameron Crowe movies.
ELIZABETHTOWN ( * * ½ )
Directed by Cameron Crowe.
Starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon.
(PG-13, 123 mins.) | At the Century Cinemas | Del Monte Center, Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinemas.
His decent, confused protagonist here is Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), who has just experienced a Jerry Maguire-sized career flameout. A product designer for a shoe company, Drew has taken the fall for a cataclysmically failed new product launch. He’s actually ready to kill himself when he receives a call that his father has died while visiting his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and that he needs to fly out there to set affairs in order. The only ray of sunshine comes from chatty flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst).
If the premise sounds familiar—after a parent’s death, a depressed guy heads to a small town where everyone thinks he’s more successful than he is, only to be inspired by a quirky goddess—it’s because you saw it last year in Zach Braff’s Garden State. Braff also clearly wants to live in Crowe World, but his take was more stylized and ironic.
Crowe’s got heart by the truckload, and moments of pure romanticism give Elizabethtown its biggest boost. In a nearly perfect sequence, Drew and Claire bond during an all-night telephone conversation, crisply edited to convey that spark of discovering someone new and wonderful and never wanting the moment to end.
If Crowe had managed to find a way to connect Elizabethtown’s touches of bliss with a clearer sense of purpose, it might have been transcendent. But he meanders around thematically, at times grappling with tangled father/son connections, drifting over to grief awkwardly manifested by Drew’s mother (Susan Sarandon), then wandering back to Drew wallowing in self-pity. Even after highly-publicized cuts from the version screened at the Toronto Film Festival, Elizabethtown still feels like an oversized coat in need of tailoring.
Even Crowe’s trademarks begin to fold in upon themselves. Dunst plays Claire, but she’s working with a character that seems to exist solely to redeem Drew. And the musical moments that have always given former rock journalist Crowe’s works a special electricity—Say Anything’s “In Your Eyes;” Almost Famous’ “Tiny Dancer” sing-along—never quite come together.
Yet for all that, it’s hard to be angry at a Cameron Crowe movie. There’s affection in nearly every frame, and he manages too many great bits like Alec Baldwin’s cameo as Drew’s boss. Crowe World simply loses its firm orbit around our own world and spins off to a place where actually living there—which once only felt like an improbable dream—now feels impossible.