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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.92%
Worth A Look: 24.32%
Just Average: 6.31%
Pretty Crappy: 9.91%

9 reviews, 57 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"A wonderful cinematic road trip that goes as the Crowe flies"
5 stars

Thanks in part to the tepid critical reception to an unfinished rough cut that screened last month at the Toronto Film Festival, some have already chosen to dismiss “Elizabethtown,” the latest work from writer-director Cameron Crowe (best known for such charmers as “Say Anything,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous”) as a meandering misstep from a usually reliable filmmaker. I didn’t see that version but the final cut that is now appearing in theaters is a real joy–a funny, thoughtful, original and occasionally quite moving examination of life, loss and love that is among the best films of the year. The fact that a film as quirky and idiosyncratic as this can make its way through the machinery of the contemporary studio system is enough to give one hope that others will be inspired to tell such personal stories instead of simply rehashing last year’s hits or old television shows.

The film stars Orlando Bloom as Drew Baylor, a shoe designer whose fast-track up the corporate ladder is immediately halted when his pet project is rejected by the public and recalled by his company less than a week after hitting the market for a loss of $972 million. While heading to a meeting with his shell-shocked boss (Alec Baldwin), Drew insists on telling everyone whom he encounters that “I’m fine” but before he even realizes what has happened, he loses his job, his equally fat-tracking girlfriend (Jessica Biel) and is informed that an article in a major business magazine that will pin him as being the person solely responsible for the biggest flop in the history of the industry will be running in a little over a week.

Since he has essentially wrapped his entire life into this shoe, Drew is at wits end and decides to commit suicide via one of the more oddly cumbersome methods to appear in screen history. Just in the nick of time, he is interrupted by a phone call from his sister (Judy Greer) informing him that their father has died while visiting his hometown of Elizabethtown, KY. Because his sister has a newborn baby and his mother (Susan Sarandon) is a.) a basket case over the loss of her husband and b.) not the most popular person in Elizabethtown because of the way that she lured a hometown hero off to the unknown world of “California” decades earlier, Drew is elected to fly off to represent the family at a local memorial and to bring back his cremated remains. Not telling his family about his failure (and still planning on returning to his suicide plans when it is convenient), Drew flies off on the red-eye to Kentucky and, along the way, meets Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst), an extraordinarily helpful stewardess who senses that something is not all right with him and offers to assist him in any manner possible–within the space of a few minutes, she provides him with the correct pronunciation of Louisville, a detailed map of how to get to Elizabethtown and her phone number.

At first, this extended opening sequence feels like Crowe going back to the well again to reuse the elements that made “Jerry Maguire” such a smash–the Billy Wilder-inspired corporate satire, an all-knowing voice-over narration, an ambitious Young Turk at loose ends when the world that he has completely bought into turns on him with a vengeance and a bright and pretty blonde who becomes an instant ally within seconds of meeting the Young Turk because she knows that he is a good person deep down. When you add in some plot details that don’t quite ring true (such as the ideas that an airline could afford to run a late-night Oregon-Kentucky flight that is virtually deserted and that a show company would invest $972 million into a single product line without any apparent market research or testing), it all comes off like the most artificial, movie-movie thing that Crowe has ever done as a filmmaker. As the movie progresses, though, it becomes clear that this artificiality was a conscious choice on Crowe’s part to accentuate the shift that occurs once Drew pulls into Elizabethtown–essentially, he steps out of one movie and into another, one that is far more naturalistic and dependent on how the characters develop instead of the plot.

As Drew tries to acclimate himself among a family branch that he knows little about while trying to process both his own grief and the intense outpouring of love and support that he receives from virtually everyone he encounters, “Elizabethtown” becomes a keenly observed and finely tuned work of social comedy that never falls back on the kind of easy fish-out-of-water gags that one might expect to see. Instead of treating all of his Kentucky characters as either home-spun sages who are far wiser than citified folk or slack-jawed yokels, he treats them as real people and the humor evolves from their quirky personalities rather than from broad schtick. In a Cameron Crowe film, every character, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is deemed worthy of being considered as a real person instead of a cardboard cutout and his generosity in such matters only adds to the richness of the material. Consider the final scene involving the briefly-seen Jessica Biel character. In most films, she would have been painted simply as the cold-hearted bitch and her character would have been dismissed in the coldest and most ruthless manner possible. Here, Crowe gives her a few extra seconds of time at the end of the scene and the look of regret on her face that we see during that time is enough to make us reevaluate what we think about her.

He also gets a feel for how a person like Drew can become overwhelmed in such a situation and will try to seek out one single person or thing to grasp on to in order to keep from going under. This is where Claire comes back into the picture–at first via one of those great all-night phone calls that everyone should get to have once or twice in a lifetime and later when she arrives in town to help navigate Drew through his crisis as she would for any passenger during an emergency. Some may complain that Claire is too much of the standard Crowe fantasy woman–pretty, cheerful, loyal, spunky and with great taste in music–to be believed but I think that if we look at her as the movie does, through the eyes of Drew, her character makes more sense. After all, the only thing that could possibly break Drew out of his grand funk would be the kind of utterly perfect angel that she represents. In the earliest stages of love, is there anyone among us who doesn’t idealize their partner to such an excessive degree? Didn’t think so.

Crowe gets a lot of mileage out of his large cast as well. The denizens of Elizabethtown (including the eclectic likes of Paul Schneider, Bruce McGill and Loudon Wainwright) are all colorful without slipping into caricature. Orlando Bloom, in what is his first major role in a film set in contemporary times, is surprisingly effective in the part of Drew–he has a slight outsider aura that fits his character quite effectively–and Dunst has never been more charming and appealing than she is here as Claire. (The look she gives when Drew asks, over the phone, “When will you be back?” is an absolute delight.) At first, you may wonder why Crowe would cast an actress of the stature of Susan Sarandon for the seemingly minor role of Drew’s frazzled mother since she only makes a few brief appearances throughout the story. The answer comes during the astonishing emotional climax of the film when she delivers her eulogy at the memorial service–an extended high-wire act that finds her switching from comedy to pathos with quicksilver speed and even finds her topping things off with an adorably homely little tap-dance before a band breaks out in a full-throttle version of “Freebird”. On paper, this must sound unbearably twee but she pulls off every single nuance beautifully and the result is a scene that is so moving that I will admit that it has brought a small tear or two to my eyes every time I have seen it.

Speaking of “Freebird” (which, despite being perhaps the hoariest rock cliche imaginable, actually works under the circumstances), the soundtrack that Crowe has put together is another intelligently chosen compilation of familiar tunes and off-beat oddities that accentuate the story without ever taking over the narrative duties themselves. Once again, he shows such an innate gift for matching the proper song with the story that he can take a song by a singer that you can’t stand and use it in such a manner that you want to rush out and buy the soundtrack in order to hear it over and over again. (Although I am not an Elton John fan by any means, his use of “My Father’s Gun” is spot-on.) In fact, there is only one clunky musical cue in the entire film and that is only because the song that has been chosen is the most obvious one possible–a visit to the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated during the third-act road trip leads to the inevitable chunk of U2's “Pride (In the Name of Love),” which isn’t a bad song but it is the kind of cue that anyone could have thought of for such a moment.

In “Elizabethtown,” a character extolls the joys and pleasures that can be found in an extended road trip–the kind of trip that one sets off on where the final destination is much less important than the adventures and diversions that one experiences before arriving at that destination. Crowe’s film is a lot like a cinematic equivalent of just such a trip–it starts off in a familiar manner and it concludes in a way that is equally unsurprising but Crowe gets us from point A to B by charting a fascinating journey that is driven by a gallery of interesting characters who are allowed to be real people instead of slaves to just another paint-by-numbers screenplay. The result is a real gem that is a personal triumph for Crowe and a gift for film fans everywhere.

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originally posted: 10/13/05 23:56:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/01/21 David Wakefield Just saw it. Worst most boring movie in film history. 1 stars
4/05/16 Lucia There is literally NOTHING likable about any of the characters in this film. 1 stars
3/18/14 Fykvvqfc Since Aflac japanese remains the No.Men left sterile by cancer treatment as well as with th 4 stars
2/21/14 Bgpstiag 99 unlimited streaming and binary options australia turn it into something bigger., <a href 5 stars
2/19/14 Lola This is the funniest, most spot-on review of this film -- I laughed so hard I peed myself 5 stars
2/13/14 gGrWfmlqrQcdI sverige.txt;1 4 stars
7/01/10 Ninjaboy This dude has written the BEST movie review I have EVER read. It is accurate and 100% corre 1 stars
3/15/10 Shoy I think this reviewer's got issues beyond his hatred of Elizabethtown. I enjoyed the film. 4 stars
2/21/10 Cat Garbage on every leve. As a chick it is ofensive. Orlando Bloom is wooden in this film. 1 stars
1/25/10 Ato I'm happy people have finally realised that Orlando Bloom IS NOT A LEADING MAN!! 1 stars
12/21/09 tom absolutely terrible. No redeemable merit AT ALL! 1 stars
7/18/09 Meg WORST. EVER. 1 stars
11/03/08 Will sucked balls. 1 stars
10/25/08 John McCarthy I had to give up half way through and read angry reviews to feel normal again 1 stars
8/21/08 Stephanie Oh my god, this movie was AWFUL. Pointless, boring, and 2.5 hours of my life GONE FOREVER! 1 stars
8/13/08 Brenda I didn't like it. The main character is unlikable. It has huge sections of nothing. Dull! 1 stars
4/26/08 Pinoy Kabayan Very good. Ilike it 5 stars
4/25/08 Roz Couldn't stand it. Boring on so many levels. 1 stars
4/09/07 Jessie Lee Good film... Not perfect, but not the horrid trash some may lead you to believe. 3 stars
3/10/07 Dominic Rubbish - and this is from someone who is an unabashed Almost Famous fan 1 stars
10/22/06 meredith the feel of the movie was fantastic but the plot was a little piontless but i loved the dia 4 stars
8/25/06 Joe Chris Parry's review is more amusing than the film. Watch "Jerry Maguire" again instead. 2 stars
8/14/06 Ashley Hinz Strange little movie, but fine. 4 stars
5/19/06 Christine Wilbik Boring, lost interest in the movie immediately 2 stars
3/25/06 Thomas Semesky A film that I liked, but I can understand why others wouldn't 3 stars
3/14/06 Michelle D Just read Chris Parry's review. 1 stars
3/12/06 Roderick Cromar Really not good. It's difficult either to believe the plot or to sympathise with the leads. 2 stars
2/27/06 Kevin Smith Orlando Bloom is not a good actor 1 stars
2/25/06 Murray Snowdon total and utter waste of time - pathetic 1 stars
2/23/06 ES Didn't hate it, didn't love it. Re-watchability 0% 3 stars
12/21/05 Kirsten Dunst fan in mourning starting with virgin suicides Painful seeing Kirsten Dunst morph into totally thinking her shit don't stink! 1 stars
12/17/05 Once great Kirsten Dunst continues downward spiral. Anyone else find Claire to be obnoxious?? 2 stars
11/08/05 kammie love love loved it!!! 5 stars
11/08/05 tanja some good ideas and curious dialogues mixed with poor acting 3 stars
11/06/05 rod james Total boring rubbish 1 stars
11/05/05 Laura petersen one of my favorites, more of a chick flick and im not even a orlando fan 5 stars
10/23/05 GiR It was adorable..but not worth paying to see it..good thing I work at a movie theatre. 4 stars
10/23/05 Don A good "substitute" for the movie you came to see . . . 4 stars
10/23/05 John I turned to my wife halfway through, and said that I want to get on his bicycle now 1 stars
10/22/05 jay straight forward poop 1 stars
10/22/05 baseball-nut I didn't care for it, but my wife liked it considering she's an Orlando Bloom fan! 3 stars
10/21/05 Boombala Hey If Kirsten Dunst's head exploded, would it affect her acting? 1 stars
10/20/05 john mills The Congo of romance. Simply awful!!! 1 stars
10/20/05 Bri really, really good! definately worth watching 5 stars
10/19/05 odditie Please make better decisions Orlando! 1 stars
10/18/05 Steve Michaud Even "lesser" Cameron Crowe is scads better than most of the stuff churned out these days. 4 stars
10/18/05 Ron Sandvick Excellent and fun 5 stars
10/17/05 Ryan Possibly a movie that non-20somethings just won't get. Understandably. 4 stars
10/16/05 ajay man, there's a lot of people down on Cameron Crowe. It's not a bad flick. 3 stars
10/16/05 jeff just stupid!!! 1 stars
10/15/05 Cara Undoubtedly, this is the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire 54 years of existence. 1 stars
10/15/05 Tommy Adams Left me speechless, as few moviews have. Loved it! 5 stars
10/14/05 Jim The Movie Freak This should've been better 3 stars
10/14/05 Criddler Diddler More embarassingly inept garbage from pretentious hack Cameron Crowe? Hurray! 1 stars
10/11/05 Alonso Duralde Horrible! Cutesy/phony/precious/fartsy—maybe even worse than "Vanilla Sky." Avoid! 1 stars
10/10/05 Dan Moore very insightful film on human nature 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam Lightweight, predictable romantic comedy 2 stars
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  14-Oct-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Feb-2006



Directed by
  Cameron Crowe

Written by
  Cameron Crowe

  Orlando Bloom
  Kirsten Dunst
  Susan Sarandon
  Judy Greer
  Jessica Biel
  Alec Baldwin

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