If you are lucky enough to somehow manage to see only the first ten minutes or so of Cameron Crowe’s ELIZABETHTOWN, you will come away thinking that this has the makings of something interesting, dark, and just a little iconoclastic. Alas, it is followed by almost two hours of meandering randomness that quickly dispenses with any delusions that this will lead anywhere or, at the very least, make for an interesting journey into nothingness.
Those first ten minutes or so introduce us to Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), former whiz-kid at Mercury athletic shoes. His was the billion-dollar idea that went south taking pretty much that much money with it. His return for the final reckoning with Mercury’s founder and CEO, played with pompous subtlety by Alec Baldwin, is a delicious skewering of New Age business ideals with Drew investing several universes of meaning, none of them literal, into “I’m fine”, the phrase he mumbles reflexively to everyone and everything in his immediate vicinity. It’s later, after he’s cleaned out his apartment and come up with a properly whiz-kid way of taking the big sleep that things go south. Literally and figuratively. He’s interrupted by the news that his father has died on a trip to his hometown in Kentucky, the eponymous Elizabethtown, and Drew, as the most responsible member of the family, has to go with his father’s blue suit to fetch the body home. On the plane he meets flight attendant Clare (Kirsten Dunst), the regulation quirky gal who will stun Drew out of his stupor and show him The Meaning of Life. And if she were more like an irresistible life force instead of a flaky stalkerette, it might have worked.
There is also the regulation gaggle of southern relatives, none of whom Drew knows, and all of whom embrace him to their collective bosom thereby showing him The Meaning of Family while being annoyingly quaint in they way that they confuse California with Oregon. That none of them seem to have gotten the hang of actually raising children is a discordant note in the proceedings best exemplified by one tot with a penchant for giving out, and for no readily apparent reason, a high-pitched wail that could easily drop a hummingbird at twenty paces.
As for the family back home in Oregon, mom Susan Sarandon, the woman the Kentucky family blames for taking their homeboy away, finds time in the two days covered in the film to take tap dancing lessons, cooking lessons, fix a toilet, and run afoul of car repairs while still finding time to enroll in a class in stand-up comedy. Sarandon, an actress of considerable presence and talent, is reduced to a speech at the end that should be a crescendo but instead is a dud as Sarandon tries to work up some emotion from prose that is disjointed and patently false as far as expressing the depth of any feeling or revealing any great truths. As for Bloom, on whose face the camera focuses a great deal, he bravely putters about on screen as though it all means something, but leaves the unmistakable sense of wanting it all to be over very, very soon.
There are several ideas for a film tumbled together here. Reconnecting with family, with a father figure, and with lost dreams compete for attention with the overplanned wedding fiesta in the hotel that where Drew is staying. Sequences exploring these ideas are interrupted by extended musical interludes that add nothing to the tone, nor do they further the story. It’s much like the dialogue as a whole, which is the sort of thing one would hear expounded at two in the morning by someone in late adolescence who has been deprived of sleep for several days and may or may night have indulged in controlled substances of some sort. Platitudes are confused with profundities and speculation is rife on such things as just who “they” are in the “They say that. . . ” turn of phrase. It might sound righteous to another someone else in late adolescence in a similar semi-catatonic state, but to anyone else, it sounds like what it is: piffle.
It is fair to say that somewhere in the muddle, Crowe seems to have wanted to tell an unconventional love story. Kudos there, to be sure, but like everything else in the film, it isn’t something he focuses on long enough or with enough energy. Like the film as a whole, it doesn’t so much go down in flames, as fizzle out from neglect.