The films of Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky) seem to divide both critics and audiences alike. There are those who, like myself, adore his earnest, articulate and uninhibited characters who, as they frequently admit, have a guileless way of saying all the things that others usually will not say. They’re emotional rather than sarcastic, honest rather than coy and usually fill writers with envy by the sheer beauty of the memorable dialogue (best offered in his narrative techniques and first-person accounts) that seem at once both literary and reminiscent of classic Hollywood films by directors such as William Wyler and Billy Wilder (about and with whom Crowe composed a book-length collection of interviews). When it comes to the responses of his most recent work Elizabethtown, which like the ultra personal Almost Famous was inspired from events of his own life (though not to the extent of Famous), reactions ran the gamut from praise to scathing attacks on not just this latest film and its eccentric characters plus the wildly imaginative tale and hip soundtrack (Crowe’s taste as evidenced in Vanilla Sky is both impeccable and unnervingly intimidating) but also the entire career of the man himself. For some, disliking this film caused critics to reevaluate and irrationally attack all of his other films in sensationalized ways that seemed both unprofessional and unfair, especially after its disastrous premiere at the Toronto Film Festival which caused Crowe to re-cut the film again for Paramount. Couple these criticisms with the Toronto reception and audiences were given numerous reasons to stay away from what they were repeatedly told by critics parroting one another was an overly indulgent Crowe rehash of Garden State. This being said, it's a shame that so many didn't take the risk in checking it out for themselves as it's one of Crowe's undisputed masterworks.
Written especially for Orlando Bloom (which delayed the shoot as he was unavailable for awhile causing many other actors to be considered and schedule conflicted Jane Fonda to back out), the film stars Bloom as Drew Baylor, who at the start of Elizabethtown is seated in a helicopter looking longingly at the emergency exit lever in a way that recalls the beginnings of Harold and Maude and The Graduate. In a dazzling set-up and impressively well-written opening sequence we learn that young Baylor-- a brilliant shoe designer-- has recently cost his employer, Mercury Worldwide Shoes (headed up by Alec Baldwin) nearly one billion dollars on a recent design he’d created that was put into production before a frantic recall, making the situation a full-blown disaster. The descriptive narration and pitch perfect company politics mindset instantly recalls Crowe’s earlier masterpiece Jerry Maguire and wordsmiths may find themselves hitting the “back” button on their DVD remotes to relish in choice phrases again and again in awe. Hoping to cash in his chips, Baylor goes home and rigs an elaborate suicidal booby-trapped exercise bike (again filmed in a darkly comic Harold and Maude style) before getting a fateful phone call from his tearful sister (Judy Greer) letting him know that his father has died from an unexpected heart attack while visiting relatives in Kentucky. This shocking turn of events causes him to return back to his roots in Elizabethtown, near Louisville Kentucky where he reconnects with his eccentric relatives and meets cute with friendly, supportive, knowingly flirtatious flight attendant Kirsten Dunst who first comes across as annoyingly perky only for us to realize that she is one of the wisest and most intuitive characters in the piece. The film, at times is admittedly guilty of Crowe’s weakness for the precious and memorable over the believable as most apparent in the film’s wake sequence that is entertaining yet nonetheless unrealistic as we watch grieving widow Susan Sarandon tap dance and tell jokes to hide her pain but the film is definitely worth the investment—highly underrated and judged far too harshly—Elizabethtown is actually among the favorites of some of my fellow Crowe fans.
More Elizabethtown from iTunes
Music From Elizabethtown
Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown Music Podcast
“It’ll All Work Out” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
“Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by The Hombres
“Where To Begin” by My Morning Jacket
“io (This Time Around)” by Helen Stellar
“Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams
“Same In Any Language” by I Nine
“I Can’t Get Next to You” by The Temptations
“You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Concretes
“Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
“Moon River” by Patty Griffin
“Pride (In The Name of Love)” by U2