Coming from a writer-director as talented as Cameron Crowe, Elizabethtown can only rank as a major disappointment.
With films like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe carved a niche as a film maker who could blend heart felt emotions with a nice comic touch. His last film, Vanilla Sky (a remake of Spanish thriller Abre Los Ojos, was brave yet flawed departure from his usual style. His latest goes back to the themes of his earlier films but is almost unrecognisable in terms of quality and execution.
The story involves a young shoe designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) whose latest design has cost his company a billion dollars. Distraught and on the brink of suicide he receives a call that his father has died. This triggers a journey to his family and relatives in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. On the flight there he meets a quirky air stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who changes his outlook on life and love.
The central flaw of Elizabethtown can be seen early on when Drew is fired and tries to commit suicide. The tone is all over the place, veering wildly between slapstick and tragedy leaving the emotions on display hard to believe. The film never recovers. It isn’t helped by the miscasting of Bloom in the main role and the fact that nearly all the characters feel one dimensional, from Dunst’s too-good-to-be-true soul mate to the quirky denizens of Elizabethtown itself who never seem to be anything more than southern clichés.
Added to the problems of character and tone, the film also ambles along with little direction or purpose. That would not be a bad thing were the situations in the film interesting or engaging but too often they aren’t. There are some nice ideas – an all night phone call and an unusual mix CD stand out – but they are few and far between. To compound things the climax of the film involves a misjudged sequence involving Drew’s mother (Susan Sarandon) giving a cringe worthy ode to her late husband that inadvertently resembles the end of Napolean Dynamite.
The best that can be said about Elizabethtown is that it contains some fragments that are reminiscent of his earlier films. The worst is that for most of its running time it comes across as a bad imitation of Crowe’s style. Even the soundtrack (usually a high point) is a letdown, with songs adding little to the on screen action. Ultimately the film is a lot of uninspired sketches cobbled together to form a disappointing whole and one can only hope he gets back making films like he used to.