Cameron Crowe’s “coming-of-age, romantic comedy, drama, road movie” tries so hard to be a bit of everything, but sadly fails to be truly great at anything. There are some fantastic moments when it hints at being wonderful, but the excess padding and lack of direction mean Elizabethtown only passes as ‘entertaining’.
Drew Baylor seems to have the perfect life – he is a brilliant footwear designer for a major shoe manufacturer, has the perfect girlfriend, and very little contact with his family back home. When it all comes crashing down to the tune of a $972 million loss disguised as the ultimate in sporting apparel (the bizarrely named ‘Späsmodica’), he becomes aware of the meaninglessness of his life if he isn’t a success. A chance meeting with a flight attendant, however, could change everything…
This plot has the potential to be a great romcom, or a fantastic values/life-in-crisis piece (in the vein of another Crowe film, Jerry Maguire), but by trying to be something different every few minutes, it loses direction and squanders its opportunities. Elizabethtown is strongest when being a straight-out romantic comedy – Bloom and Dunst share a wonderful sequence on the phone that is absolutely charming. Their meetings and misunderstandings, and the eventual beginnings of a relationship, are adorable. The ‘road trip’ portion, which serves as a visual proxy for their developing attraction and the ‘getting to know each other’ phase of their relationship, also works. Crowe always seems dissatisfied with just hitting the notes for a romcom, however, and continually tries to inject drama.
There are dramatic sequences that work well too, it’s just that the meandering between comedy, romance, drama and coming-of-age film leaves one not entirely sure how to feel at any point in time. Susan Sarandon’s climactic speech works brilliantly for example, and manages to capture all the emotion of her reunion with her estranged in-laws – anger, frustration, and finally acceptance – but other attempts to darken proceedings don’t manage quite so well. The unnecessary subplot with Drew’s cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider) and his father and son issues is one such thread.
The running time was originally 135 minutes, and was evidently edited down to 123 minutes at the request of the studio, and yet it still seems overlong and bloated. There is a lot of filler – Chuck and Cindy’s wedding is given far too much attention, the aforementioned father-son-grandson subplot, and even several of the scenes between Bloom and Dunst could have done with more brevity. Perhaps with a single intention this could have been made to flow more readily, but by trying to achieve so much, it fails.
Being a Cameron Crowe film, the soundtrack is incredible, and is in fact one of the highpoints. Crowe has such a way with song selection, and uses music to provide additional punch to big moments with aplomb. The rendition of ‘Freebird’ by Jessie’s band is a wonderful scene, and the road trip compilation is exceptional. It seems a shame the onscreen action had less focus than the brilliant soundtrack.
In spite of reasonable leading performances by Bloom and Dunst, an excellent soundtrack, and some truly wonderful individual scenes, the lack of overriding direction and inadequate editing of filler material limit the impact of what could have been a poignant film about growing up and finding oneself. It is enjoyable, funny at times, moving at others, but could have been so much more.Rating: