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"ELIZABETHTOWN"
(2005) (Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A young man tries to sort out various issues in his life, including meeting a quirky but optimistic flight attendant, following the death of his father and subsequent trip to attend a memorial and retrieve the remains.
PLOT:
Things have been better for Drew Baylor (ORLANDO BLOOM). Not only has he been informed by his boss, Phil DeVoss (ALEC BALDWIN), that his latest athletic shoe design will cost their company $972 million dollars, but his girlfriend Ellen (JESSICA BIEL) had dumped him and when he tries to kill himself, he's interrupted by a phone call.

It's his sister Heather (JUDY GREER) who's called to say that their father Mitch has died of a heart attack in his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. With Heather and their mom Hollie (SUSAN SARANDON) too distraught to go, it's up to Drew to fly there from Oregon, attend the memorial service and return with his father's remains.

Still reeling from all of the bad news, Drew isn't ready for Claire Colburn (KIRSTEN DUNST), a perky and cheery chatterbox who works as a flight attendant and won't let him be on the otherwise almost empty overnight flight. Armed with her directions and phone number in case he needs anything, Drew sets off from the airport for Elizabethtown.

There, he meets relatives such as his cousin Jessie (PAUL SCHNEIDER), who lets his young son run wild in a hands off sort of parenting approach, and old family friend Bill Banyon (BRUCE McGILL) who Hollie states swindled her husband out of money years ago. Everyone's very welcoming to Drew, but in such mass numbers and with so much attention, they're overwhelming.

Accordingly, and needing someone more like him to talk to, Drew decides to give Claire a call from his room in a hotel already full of attendees for an upcoming wedding. The two instantly bond over the phone, finding kindred spirits in each other. Since she says she has a boyfriend, he doesn't expect much, but sparks eventually fly. As he tries to get to know her better, Drew much figure out his life including how to deal with his previous business fiasco as well as all of his relatives and family friends who don't want Mitch's remains taken back to Oregon.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Any time a film opens with the narrator discussing the differences between failure and fiasco, you know -- just like when the title could obviously be used in a bad way to describe the offering in a review -- that it's tempting fate. While the cinema gods may have excused "Elizabethtown" for the first temptation, and have given it a pass on the otherwise banal title, they have zapped it back down to Earth for another glaring bit of lightning bolt-inducing fate that's all too obvious.

And that's the forced whimsy, quirkiness, absurdist material and metaphor gravy that the film all too proudly wears. You make a message movie that's too thick with symbolism and eccentricities and Celluloidus, the cinema deity, will -- to quote Jules/Ezekiel from "Pulp Fiction" -- "strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger."

Okay, maybe that's going a bit overboard, but the point is that the film is so forced, self-indulgent and pretty much an outright bust that it seems at least film critics will give it the Celluloidus treatment. All of which is for the worse considering that the film comes courtesy of one Cameron Crowe, a cinematic god to some fans who once delivered the likes of "Say Anything" and "Jerry Maguire" before slipping a tiny bit with "Almost Famous" and then crashing and burning with his unnecessary remake of "Abre Los Ojos," "Vanilla Sky."

Unfortunately, the descent continues with this misguided effort that's not only unbearable at times, but also doesn't know when to quit. Quirky and/or absurdist style material is extremely hard to pull off. That's especially true when it's coupled with more traditional drama, but that doesn't stop Crowe -- who works from his own original screenplay -- from giving it a try.

That's not to say it can't be done -- as Jean-Pierre Jeunet proved first with "Amelie" and then especially with "A Very Long Engagement" where the quirkiness and eccentricities were interesting, fun and engaging. Here, they only feel forced. And what makes it worse is that you not only note the seams in the puppetry at play, but you can also see the puppeteer and his strings manipulating everything.

The most obvious sign of that is the film's soundtrack that contains dozens of period songs. Rather than exploring the themes beyond what's already obviously present, Crowe pounds out the message through well-known and some obscure tunes when not otherwise manipulating the viewer by their composition (lively when needed, slower in more somber moments, etc.). It's not the first and certainly won't be the last time this occurs, but beyond making for a great movie soundtrack for later purchase, the inclusion of all the music seems an easy way out of tackling the bigger issues at play.

Of course, you won't be able to miss all of the profound sounding dialogue, what with the symbolism being laid on so thick that you'd swear this story was taking place not in Elizabethtown, but instead in or around "Metaphoropolis." The two main characters constantly wax philosophical about life, themselves and their not entirely determined relationship, but it's all fortune cookie type material. It may sound profound, but it's like the characters are reading lines from a philosophy book rather than engaging in a meaningful or realistic conversation.

The various plot and character quirks come off the same way in that they're seemingly present just to be, well, present. There's chatterbox Claire repeatedly taking snapshots -- to remember the moment -- with her imaginary camera that she holds in front of her face while smiling and clicking away. There's a brief bit about the protagonist's boss being obsessed with things in twos (we see a brief example of that); a body in a casket suddenly smiling; a children's motivational videotape that promises to show a house blowing up if the kids behave; and Susan Sarandon playing the recently widowed wife who's now into any hobby, pastime or activity she can cram into just a few days.

While that sort of material may have worked in a Jeunet film (or in a novel where the reader could have put their own unique humorous spin on visualizing all that's offered), it simply doesn't here and just keeps piling up until it eventually overshadows the film and its various intended themes. And as it does and everyone in the titular town acts like they're from bizarro world, all I kept thinking was that this was some sort of dream, grief and/or shock induced hallucination or even an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Alas, that's not the case, which is all too apparent when the film won't end and instead goes on an extended road trip of everything Americana, juxtaposing Elvis, the Martin Luther King shooting location, the memorial to the bombing victims in Oklahoma City, and your standard tourist trap stops and more. I understand that it's the road trip the main character and his now deceased father never took, and I get all of the symbolic attributes, but it's all just so darn jarring, jumbled and downright boring that I couldn't wait for the film to end.

It doesn't help that Orlando Bloom is miscast as the troubled protagonist or that the usually fun Kirsten Dunst seems like she's on something that's sped up her mental state a few too many notches, thus making her annoying rather than cute and funny (although visually she can't help but remain the former). Sarandon is mired in a thankless role that has her going through all of the "gotta keep busy" material before doing a tap-dance routine at her husband's memorial (yes, you read that right). Others are present, but they're limited by the Rod Serling inspired goofiness and/or absurdity that runs rampant and over this production.

The memorable line from "Jerry Maguire" was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character yelling out "Show me the money!" After "Vanilla Sky" and now this movie, I hope that Crowe hears when all of us shout out "Show me a good movie again!" If you're longing for this sort of tale, check out the similarly plotted but far more engaging and better made "Garden State." While not a complete fiasco, "Elizabethtown" is certainly a failure and a disappointing one at that. The film rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 6, 2005 / Posted October 14, 2005


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