“Elizabethtown” is little more than a big-star film with film-school sensibilities that gives us nothing productive – save the unfortunate realization that Orlando Bloom can’t dance. Cameron Crowe tries once again to recapture the magic of “Jerry Maguire,” and instead dishes out over-cute dialogue and a travelogue full of American bleeding heart surrounded by some of the best performances we’ve seen in a bad film in quite some time. It’s too bad: Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon and Alec Baldwin act the hell out of their roles, but the story is tangential, disconnected, and overlong. “Elizabethtown” is not a place I’d recommend you spend a few hours of your time.
The setup is great: our hero Drew (Bloom) suffers a double blow in the spectacular crash of his professional career – for which reason he opts to commit suicide - and the death of his father – which stays his hand for two weeks while he supports his family through their crisis. During that two weeks, he travels to his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to bury his Dad. On the way, he meets quirky, cute flight attendant Claire (Dunst), who is able to eventually capture his heart as she helps him deal with his abruptly unfortunate life and an incredible array of backwater in-laws. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.
Unfortunately, the script suffers from “star-fluffing.” Alec Baldwin’s sassy executive is provided a fifteen minute dissertation at the top of the film – presumably to underscore the depths to which Drew’s futures have sunk, but more likely to give the esteemed actor a shining moment on film. And Susan Sarandon proves once again that she can ride the back of the chorus, then step into the spotlight (this time, literally) and steal the film; her grieving wife, estranged from her family but determined to put on her tapping shoes and move on with life, is a study in nuance – and bravery. And Dunst turns in a terrific performance as a perky love interest against type, holding her love interest at bay with snappy jokes and witty banter, until her scheduled third-act moment of truth. It is a testament to Dunst’s abilities that she makes this goofball character affable, even lovable.
But there’s very little to believe in with Orlando Bloom. Surrounded by Academy Awards, he resembles a man drowning in a script he fails to comprehend. His penchant for victimization in acting delivers, in Drew, a character to whom everything happens, and who never exerts any control over his own destiny. We don’t really believe that he’s going to kill himself – he takes it all too lightly – and so there is no peril in his decisions, or lack thereof. The script is certainly to blame here; Crowe’s sentimentality is too comfortable, to familiar, for us to feel anything but some bland attachment to his characters, and absolute certainty that in the end these two will live happily ever after. And his rampant obtuse symbolism – studies in parents and children, visual metaphors that culminate in a conflagration at the memorial service caused by a papier-mâché bird – are obvious and distracting.
Of course, most of those weaknesses merely make of the film a badly paced bore. What’s truly distressing about the film is watching footage of Orlando Bloom dancing… and he does it more than once. It’s something that must be witnessed personally, but let’s just say that the grace of an elf is certainly not in evidence.
Crowe, who delighted in “Maguire” and “Almost Famous,” needs, like his lead character in this film, to take true risks. This film, patterned upon every uninspired romantic comedy/road trip film that flopped before it, is a prime example of what a “name” in Hollywood can execute out of hand.