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Elizabethtown

a film by Cameron Crowe

I have always been an extremely outspoken advocate for the termination of Cameron Crowe's DGA membership. From the overly-ripe Singles to the incredulously benign Jerry McGuire to the preposterously monkey-brained, and inexplicably acclaimed quasi-autobiographical Almost Famous to the sadly underachieved Vanilla Sky, Crowe has been on my hit list. A filmmaker with obvious talents when it comes to singular cinematic moments - just look at the way he frames a shot or the manner in which he edits a scene or just watch the "Tiny Dancer" singalong in Almost Famous - but with such a naive, almost dense, sensibility for storytelling and character composition, that Crowe can take the most creative, beatific tale (eg: Vanilla Sky) and tumble it down to such an Earthbound mundaneness, as to make it incomprehensible to the original artistry of the project. It is with this middling matter-of-course convention that Crowe takes on his newest cheesefest, Elizabethtown.

But to digress just a bit, it is this middle-of-the-road blandness that probably first attracted Crowe to his star, Orlando Bloom, for whom he originally wrote the script for. Running the acting gamut from A to B (if he even goes that far), Bloom is perfectly set to become the onscreen doppelganger for Crowe's not-so-quite-misbegotten youth. Bland, ordinary, average to the most average degree, Bloom has been nothing more than a pretty face little dolphin doggie-paddling his way through a cinematic sea of toothy thespianic sharks. Basically, if he don't got pointy ears and he ain't shootin' arrows at big ugly Orcs, then what the Hell is he good for. Although his Lord of the Rings fanboy set is probably a hell of a lot easier to please than a more demanding "adult" audience would be, Bloom looks equally ridiculous in a sword & sandel epic such as Troy, a medieval crusade movie like Kingdom of Heaven and a candy-coated swashbuckler such as Piartes of the Caribbean. Would he be any different if cast in a contemporary, self-absorbed melo-comedi-drama? Probably not.

But I digress some more, and turn my gaze toward Crowe's female lead, the pretty yet vacuous Kirsten Dunst - and what better to gaze at. Dunst, who's roller coaster - artistically speaking - career has careened from the highly entertaining auteur-driven projects (Virgin Suicides, Eternal Sunshine) to the surprisingly entertaining (Spider-Man, Crazy/Beautiful) to the unfortunate near-misses (The Cat's Meow, Little Women) to the hidden quirks (Mother Night) to the big budget flops (Mona Lisa Smile, Wimbledon) to the downright detestable movie that started it all (Interview with the Vampire), is one of those actresses who at first glance seem to be all looks and no talent, but upon deeper reflection, show themselves as the promising star of tomorrow - even if tomorrow always stays just a hairs breadth out of reach.

It is the combination of these three elements - Crowe's penchant for mediocrity-in-the-form-of-sentiment, Bloom's oh so sissified pretty boy who thinks he can be a macho action star and Dunst's girl-next-door sex appeal that quietly masks her hidden dramatic talent - that come into play in Elizabethtown, the story of a suicidal former wunderkind gone back to a home he never knew in order to bury the father he really never knew, and in the process meets the girl that will save him from himself. I must admit at this point, that the first three paragraphs of this review were written before ever seeing Elizabthtown, knowing full well that I probably would have no reason to change my assessment of these three Hollywoodites, even after watching the damned film - and I was right. I will add something though - and this is probably something I shouldn't admit too loudly - but I nearly found myself enjoying the film - in spite of myself.

Far from a good movie, Crowe has fashioned together something that never totally repulses - which is about as good a review as any that could be given to Mr. Crowe. Overblown and way too long (and this is the shorter-by-twenty-minutes version that was quickly re-edited after a disasterous Toronto premiere), Crowe has, again, manufactured many singular enjoyable moments that, unfortunately for him - and us - never really add up to much at all. At least Aston Kutcher didn't get the lead - a thing that came awfully close to fruition when Bloom had to bow out temporarily to finish his floppish Crusades flick. After all is said and done, what can one expect from the man who brought that annoyingly insipid "show me the money!" line into common usage.

Always much savvier when it comes to the music for his films (after all, he did write for Rolling Stone as a young man and his wife is Nancy Wilson of Heart fame), it is this attribute that brings the most memorable scene of the film to life. Just as the boys in Stillwater sang Tiny Dancer in Almost Famous and John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler held that Peter Gabriel blaring boombox up to Ione Skye's window in Say Anything (although that could be construed as somewhat stalker-like), it is the memorial service fiasco version of Freebird that plays out best in Elizabethtown.

Never great, only occasionally good, but not near is bad as I expected, Cameron Crowe's latest absurd dramedy is...well, I'm not about to say it's worth the price of admission, but, well, I suppose it's better than a sharp stick in the eye. Is that what they call damning with faint praise? Oh well. [10/21/05]

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