Talk of the Town
|Starring:||Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, and Bruce McGill|
For a filmmaker who’s directed only 5 films in the last 16 years (starting with “Say Anything” in 1989), Cameron Crowe sure has a devoted following. Not only are his films extremely heartfelt and well-written (including 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which he wrote, but did not direct), but they also feature terrific soundtracks.
All those elements are certainly present and accounted for in his 6th directorial effort, but with varying degrees of effectiveness. That’s because where Crowe’s previous films were focused, honest and sincere, “Elizabethtown” is a little more uneven, contrived and emotionally manipulative. It also doesn’t help that Orlando Bloom – in a rare outing as a “regular guy” after costume epics like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Kingdom of Heaven” – is simply too weak to convey the emotional depth required by his character.
Based on Crowe’s own experiences following the passing of his father, “Elizabethtown” tells the story of Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a young hotshot whose world is about to come crashing down. He just spent the last 8 years of his life designing a new sneaker that was supposed to revolutionize the industry, but it turns out to be a colossal failure that will cost the shoe company he works for a whopping 972 million dollars. He loses his job and his high-maintenance girlfriend (Jessica Biel), and with seemingly nothing left to live for, he goes home and maps out an elaborate plan to kill himself.
But just before he can carry out the task, his sister (Judy Greer) calls with the news that his father has died. Drew puts his suicide on hold to fly back to his hometown to make arrangements for the funeral, and that’s when he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a perky flight attendant who takes an immediate liking to him. Over the next few days, she helps him traverse the course of his emotional journey, and in the process, they both realize that the best things in life happen when you least expect them to.
After the critical beating Crowe received in 2001 with the under-rated, but totally far out “Vanilla Sky,” it was only a matter of time before he returned to his romantic comedy roots. But maybe those roots run a little too deep, as “Elizabethtown” represents something of a retread of Crowe’s earlier films. As it is, Drew’s professional collapse bears a striking resemblance to the breakdown suffered by Tom Cruise in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire” and – to a lesser extent – Campbell Scott’s self-induced seclusion in 1992’s “Singles.”
And therein lies a bigger problem, for it’s hard to see Orlando Bloom go through his own breakdown without thinking about how Cruise could have done it so much better (as he did in “Maguire”). Bloom was just fine in his big-budget action epics, but his performance here is simply too flat to carry the emotional burden required for such a heartfelt drama.
Fortunately, Bloom is surrounded by a strong supporting cast that helps keep the film more entertaining than not, starting with Kirsten Dunst as the lovable, but flaky flight attendant who helps him get back on track. Susan Sarandon is also terrific as Bloom’s shell-shocked mother, while Alec Baldwin steals the movie with his brief, but memorable turn as the restrained boss who gives Bloom the boot.
But in an effort to regain his footing as the “feel good” guy, Crowe winds up forcing the qualities that he effortlessly conveyed before. Where his penchant for choosing great music for the soundtrack felt natural, now it feels like a cliché (especially when the obligatory Elton John music is cued up). It also goes on a bit too long and lacks focus, as a climactic road trip scene feels like it could have come out of another movie.
Compared to last year’s “Garden State,” which covered the same material with more genuine feeling and depth, “Elizabethtown” represents something of a mixed bag. But it’s still easy to appreciate where Crowe was going. In a day where people spend way too much time focusing on their careers, the film serves as a reminder to appreciate the things in life that really matter – like family, friends and loved ones. And as long as you take that with you when you leave the theater, then you’ll realize that “Elizabethtown” was a nice place to visit after all.