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Elizabethtown

Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 11/01/05 00:43:19

"A great mixtape, but an awful movie."
1 stars (Sucks)

It is an amusing coincidence - or perhaps merely fitting - that one of the key words in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown is "fiasco." Because that is precisely what is on display here - the fiasco of a talented writer and director indulging in his own worst impulses, leaving his film with the mark of a hack. This film is not novel, it is not clever, and it is not memorable, actively though it aspires to that status. It is, principally and pointedly, hollow, and it is endlessly predictable - every moment of it is choreographed to hit the most clichéd spots on the dance floor. It is, from beginning to end, a crippingly banal disaster.

Movie characters rarely sound like they just walked in off the street, but there is a difference between the occasional canned speech and characters who talk as though John Bartlett were feeding them lines from offscreen. Kirsten Dunst's character, Claire, is false to the point of embarrassment. With every word she utters you can practically see Crowe hunched over a typewriter in a dark room, desperately searching for the next line that a generation of moviegoers will gobble up, perhaps even treat as pop philosophy. This is the work of a man who not only believes his own hype, but is trying hard to generate more.

The plot fluctuates between depressingly rote and foolishly outlandish. We start with Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) having just lost the shoe company for which he works nearly one billion dollars due to a single bad design. It can't just be me thinking that this sounds preposterous, right? Worse still, Crowe seems to attempt some weird satire here, with the company CEO explaining to Drew in nodding tones how his global environmental watchdog program will have to be shut down. (Cue a room full of pandas on monitors. What?)

We proceed to Drew preparing to kill himself, in what I suppose is intended to be a fittingly high-concept fashion. Just before he can, though, he gets a call informing him that his father has passed away and that he has to fly to Kentucky and tend to the arrangements. Now, do you suppose that in or on the way to Kentucky he will meet someone who causes him not to kill himself? That's using your head.

Despite the fact that she is breathtakingly obnoxious in their initial meeting, Claire is that person. Their romance is pretty much by the numbers - boy meets girl, boy and girl get to know each other, boy and girl are kind of coy with each other, then end up falling for each other, then you think they’re not going to get together, but they do. (Does this spoil anything? Of course it doesn’t. Remember, this is a romantic comedy.)

Okay, so romantic comedies are usually predictable, and therefore bashing Crowe for the predictability of this one - and both of the only significant “twists” within the romantic plot are guessable from miles off - might seem a little unfair. It is not simply that Elizabethtown is utterly straightforward, however - it is that it is preoccupied with its own greatness in spite of this. Crowe has the obvious belief that he is poking at deeper truths and emotions, but if he is, he can’t get them to show themselves. There are perhaps two moments in the entire movie that really hit on any sustainable emotion, and both of those are weakened by the film that surrounds them. (It doesn’t help that both fit perfectly into the convention, keeping them from being able to truly stand out.)

Eventually, in his final humiliation, Crowe just gives up and does what we can tell he’s always wanted to do - put a mix tape on screen. He pretty much does it in every one of his movies anyway, but here it’s just egregious - Claire actually makes a mix tape for Drew’s road trip, complete with a scrapbook of pictures, directions, etc. (where on earth she found the time to time all this out perfectly in less than a week is anyone’s guess), and we’re forced to sit through it for the last 15 minutes or so of the film. In case you were wondering what it would be like to watch someone’s creativity fizzle out in front of your eyes, we now have the prime example.

Crowe has all but admitted to concerning himself as much with the film’s soundtrack as anything else - saying, “The music is as important as any of the characters” - so perhaps that explains the problem. Maybe he should simply stick to producing compilations, rather than seemingly cranking out a shockingly lousy film just so he could set a bunch of songs he liked to it. The odd thing is that the film manages to come across as so full of itself at the same time, believing so much in the cuteness of its characters and story that it simply tries to will them into existence, rather than actually earning the stripes with anything that felt genuine.

That Elizabethtown is not entirely devoid of winning moments (most of them coming in the film’s final half-hour) is a testament to Crowe’s talent, and in particular his way with a well-chosen cut of music. That the bulk of it fails so miserably, however, is a testament to his overconfidence, the feeling that he could coast on one or two aspects of his talent without having to worry about the rest of them. Getting Elton John to belt out a few lines just where you want him to is nice, but it doesn’t make a film.

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