Review: Elizabethtown

Boy meets girl…. boy falls for girl… girl falls for boy…. they make love…. they have a hardship or misunderstanding…. hardship causes boy and girl to part…. (camera shows “intense longing” and other substitutes who attempt to fill the empty space in boy and girl’s heart)….. boy makes fool of himself to get girl back…. inescapable power of love takes over and boy or girl (but usually girl) finds some way to forget the misunderstanding and resume the love…. boy and girl walk off into the sunset.

That is how most romantic comedies play out.

Elizabethtown is definitely not one of those types of romantic comedies.

I’ve been a huge fan of Cameron Crowe for awhile. I love the subtlety that he interjects throughout his films. Cameron captures those common moments in life that we all experience but most directors feel are too insignificant to dedicate screen time towards. In Elizabethtown, Crowe captures these kinds of moments and, in some ways, the moments end up being the film. This is one of my problems with Elizabethtown.

Elizabethtown stars Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst in a film where Bloom experiences the extreme “lemons” in life when his business idea loses his company $900 million dollars and shortly after his father dies. But wait…. don’t despair. This is by no means a depressing movie. The setting is a setup for great things to come. After all, when you have extreme hardship, God will use those moments to send along a ray of sunshine — provided you have the heart to open your eyes and see it. In this case, Kirsten Dunst serves as the “ray.”

The main plot of the movie sees Bloom traveling to his father’s hometown of Kentucky (where Bloom’s mother (Susan Sarandon) doesn’t seem to be understood) to have him cremated and then returned to Oregon. Sarandon does a great job as the mom. (But really, when doesn’t she shine?) Bloom plays the “fish out of water” when he experiences the warmth of almost the entire state of Kentucky and, above all, a flight attendant that he meets on his flight.

One problem that I think some may find with Elizabethtown is that in creating a movie of subtle but charming interjections (like the scene when Orlando Bloom sticks his cell phone outside of the bathroom while flushing the toilet to preserve the romance of the conversation) the movie often feels like a compilation of scenes that don’t really fuse together well. Each scene, taken for what it is, can sometimes be more charming than the movie as a whole. One scene that I particularly liked has Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst on what must be the longest romantic phone conversation in the history of film. This scene feels truly authentic and it has a genuinely innocent feel to it. It reminds me a special phone conversation I had some time ago.

When the movie was first announced, I didn’t rush to the theater because I have a big problem with Kirsten Dunst. I don’t know what it is…. I just don’t like her acting and I certainly didn’t think I would believe her as the main subject in a romantic comedy. And even though my suspicions are somewhat confirmed after seeing the film, Dunst isn’t quite as bad here as I generally find her to be. This is definitely a case of Cameron Crowe’s pen, his guidance and his directing skills superceding anything that the actors might have done to overact or otherwise tarnish the script.

I wasn’t blown away by Orlando Bloom. I like him a lot….he has a great onscreen presence. But you can tell that he’s a little green in the genre of romantic comedies. Elizabethtown might have been better served if someone with slightly heavier “acting chops” was cast in Bloom’s role. Perhaps casting someone with Bloom’s inexperience and innocence to the romantic comedy genre was Crowe’s intent to add to the freshness of the material. However, there are scenes where Bloom is attempting to convey emotion without speaking and it doesn’t really work. It looks as if he’s just staring blankly. As I watched Bloom, I began to appreciate those rare actors who convey feeling without words. Bloom isn’t quite there yet.

If you don’t already know, Cameron Crowe is probably as big a fan of music as he is of film. Just take one look at Almost Famous and it’s clear that anyone who penned that script must love music. Also, his wife is Nancy Wilson of the group Heart (who sings one of my favorite songs, These Dreams.) But with this love of music comes the problem of “smothering.” By smothering, I mean there’s probably too much music. I’m not sure if Crowe either chose twenty tracks and decided that each song must find its way in the film or if he felt that he needed it to convey emotion where the onscreen performances wouldn’t. Regardless, at times, hearing a new track every ten minutes feels a bit overdone. At the same time, it probably helps the film. I can’t imagine this film having emotion evoked the same emotion from me during some of the scenes without a song telling me how I’m supposed to feel every now and again.

I am a romantic comedy connoisseur (as some have declared) and I can’t recall having ever seen a film capture the initial innocence of a friendship between a male and a female like this. At a certain point, the movie “gives in” and then goes in a strange direction, but no spoilers here. The “strange direction” isn’t enough to tarnish the film. Crowe captures the charm and appeal of a small town atmosphere like that in Elizabethtown, Kentucky (and even makes me want to consider visiting someday.) If you’re at all interested in romantic comedies, check this one out. It’s fresh and funny and at the end of the film your spirits should be lifted higher than they were when you began.


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September 2006
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