[box cover]

Elizabethtown

After indulging a pretentious diversion with 2001's quizzical remake Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe returns to his genially quirky comfort zone with Elizabethtown (2005), an original dramedy that echoes Crowe's Jerry Maguire (1996) but fails to match that blockbuster's coherence or star-power. Orlando Bloom stars as Drew Baylor, an athletic shoe designer whose brainchild model, the "Späzmotica," was intended to revolutionize footwear, but, after eight long years in expectant development, is being recalled before its official release, costing its major footwear company Mercury upwards of $1 billion. As Drew's stoic boss "Phil" (Alec Baldwin) tells him, shortly before firing him, "This once highly anticipated product may actually cause an entire generation to return to bare feet." A workaholic facing comprehensive failure, Drew plans a grisly suicide, but before he can impale himself he receives phone call that yanks him out of his self-obsession and back into the world of his neglected family. Learning that his father has died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack while visiting relatives in Kentucky, Drew is sent by his scattered mother and sister to collect and cremate the body and bring the remains back to Oregon. Drew's reunion with his distant relatives — and his fractured memories of his dad — in cozy Elizabethtown, Kent., is surreal, unsettling, and overwhelming, and he reaches out for a more stabilizing human contact. However, the only person he can get on the phone is a chatterbox flight attendant, Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who persistently annoyed him on his red-eye flight to Kentucky. Drew's desperate phone call becomes a marathon all-nighter discussion of hopes, fears, philosophies, and flirting. When the two finally meet, they begin an unusual whirlwind romance, the inevitability of which is postponed by a flurry of oddball plot-points and set-pieces. Fans of Crowe's unique sensibility and heartfelt humor may very well love Elizabethtown — it's chock-full of his unthreateningly optimistic and colorfully detailed, very personal style. But those ambivalent to Crowe's entire body of work are likely to be less tolerant of the unpredictable story's final stretch, which descends from too quirky to precious with a disastrous (in all senses) memorial service that may be recorded as Susan Sarandon's most unconvincing and affected performance. The film then veers into a strange road-trip sequence that is individually interesting and yet reeks of self-indulgence. Elizabethtown's biggest problem, however, is the miscast Bloom. A great performer in larger-the-life epics like The Lord of the Rings series and Pirates of the Caribbean, he never gets a convincing handle on this more intimate role (or his American accent), leaving the loose narrative without the crucial element of a visible character-arc to keep it together. Dunst is pleasing, but her character's intentional early grating never totally goes away, and some of her dialogue and mannerisms are too cute, wearing heavily the strains of gimmickry. There's enough to like in Elizabethtown to recommend it, but this very factor makes the movie's failures even more dismaying. Also with Judy Greer, Bruce McGill, and Loudon Wainright III. Paramount presents their "Special Collector's Edition" of Elizabethtown in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio tracks. The supplements are not particularly outstanding, with only a couple of cast-and-crew-oriented music montages and two extended scenes. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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