Let me say this up front. When I die, I’m going to have my relatives watch this film before planning my funeral. Whether I mean it to serve as a guide or warning, I haven’t decided, but rest assured, there will be no Lynard Skynard songs.
Elizabathtown proves that Cameron Crowe can make a good movie in his sleep. This is far from his best work but even though he’s coasting here, he still delivers a movie that’s equal parts funny, charming and sweet. Maybe not in the same quantities as a film like Almost Famous but second-rate Cameron Crowe is more watchable than a lot of people’s first-rate work.
Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a hot-shot shoe designer working for Mercury, a multi-billion company more than a little similar to Nike, but with a social conscience (meaning no child labor in Hanoi, I guess). His latest design, Spasmodica, has made the Michael Jordan-esque leap past failure to become a genuine fiasco. It is to Mercury Shoes what Heaven’s Gate was to United Artists. That night, out of work and minus a girlfriend, Drew contemplates suicide via one of the most impractical methods I could imagine. Someone who so seriously overthinks how to kill himself probably doesn’t really want to die.
Before he can do it, however, he finds out that the Grim Reaper had other plans. His father, Mitch, has died while visiting his family in Kentucky. His manic mother (Susan Sarandon) wants his body returned to be cremated according his father’s last wishes. His family, who doesn’t think much of this woman who stole Mitch off to California, wants to bury him in the plot they’ve had set aside from him for years. Drew is dispatched to Elizabethtown to retrieve the body for cremation while his mother deals with widowhood by attempting every possible hobby under the sun.
As the only passenger on the red eye flight, Drew fends off the tireless attention of a relentlessly cheerful and helpful flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst). Once he reaches Elizabethtown, Drew reconnects with his dad’s folky and colorful family. Drew is treated like a rock star, since word of the Spasmodica fiasco has not reached Kentucky. The real strength of this film is the fact that the family is not a bunch of stereotypical Southern bumpkins but a collection of real people who genuinely loved their favorite son. They can’t, however, seem to get their brains around the idea of cremation or the fact that Drew’s family has actually lived in Oregon, and not California, for the last two decades.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, Drew calls the number Claire gave him, beginning a conversation that lasts until dawn. This being very much Drew’s story, Claire is not a very deeply drawn character. She is a fantasy figure who exists mostly to awaken Drew to the alternatives to suicide and tease him with the possibility of romance. Depending entirely on the considerable charms of Ms. Dunst to bring her alive, this film is fortunate she wasn’t entrusted to a lesser actress.
The British-born Bloom’s performance features a reasonable facsimile of a mid-atlantic American accent and a respectable portrayal of man pulling himself back from the end of his rope. I don’t think I quite bought his darker moments but once suicide is off the table, Bloom is comfortably in his depth.
I think the film is ultimately about seeing past superficial standards of success and failure. This film sees Mitch, a beloved figure in his community, as a much greater success story than Drew ever was, despite never ascending the heights of corporate superstardom as his son. These are hardly deep waters, but Elizabethtown still makes it worth taking two hours to at least get your feel wet.