I want to live in a world written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Not the world of Vanilla Sky'let’s all just pretend that occurred in some alternate dream reality, shall we?'but the world of Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. CroweWorld is a place where guys are concerned about integrity, and where women are an improbable mixture of hotness and coolness. All the key moments of your life would come with an awesome soundtrack, and even though things might get sprawling and ungainly at times, even the sprawl and ungainliness would have soul.
Crowe himself seems to want to live in CroweWorld as well'or at least, that might explain Elizabethtown. His gentle humanism in the face of life’s tumult has previously felt grounded in reality. Elizabethtown feels like the work of a filmmaker who has spent most of his life locked in a room watching Cameron Crowe movies.
His decent, confused protagonist here is Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), who has just experienced a Jerry Maguire-size career flameout. A product designer for a shoe company, Drew has taken the fall for a cataclysmically failed new product launch. He’s actually ready to kill himself when he receives a call that his father has died while visiting his hometown of Elizabethtown, Ky., and that he needs to fly out there to set affairs in order. The only ray of sunshine comes from chatty flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who soon is never far from Drew’s life.
If the premise sounds familiar'after a parent’s death, a depressed guy heads to a small town where everyone thinks he’s more successful than he is, only to be inspired by a quirky goddess'it’s probably because you saw it last year in Zach Braff’s Garden State. Braff also clearly wants to live in CroweWorld, but his take on the subject was more stylized and ironic. Crowe is so sincere you suspect he might think “irony” is a household chore performed on clothing.
The guy’s got heart by the truckload, and moments of pure romanticism give Elizabethtown its biggest boost. A great surreal bit finds Drew driving into Elizabethtown and finding everybody on the side of the road helpfully pointing him along to where he needs to go. In a nearly perfect sequence, Drew and Claire bond during an all-night telephone conversation, crisply edited by Crowe to convey that spark of discovering someone new and wonderful and never wanting the moment to end.
If Crowe had managed to find a way to connect Elizabethtown’s touches of bliss with a clearer sense of purpose, it might have been transcendent. But he meanders around thematically, at times grappling with tangled father/son connections, drifting over to grief awkwardly manifested by Drew’s mother (Susan Sarandon), then wandering back to Drew wallowing in self-pity. Even after highly publicized cuts from the version screened at the Toronto Film Festival, Elizabethtown still feels like an oversize coat in need of tailoring.
Even Crowe’s trademarks begin to fold in upon themselves. Dunst plays Claire with the same rosy glow as Kate Hudson’s groupie in Almost Famous, but she’s working with a character that seems to exist solely to redeem Drew. And the musical moments that have always given former rock journalist Crowe’s works a special electricity'Say Anything’s “In Your Eyes” boom box; Almost Famous’s “Tiny Dancer” sing-along'never quite come together. The sheer magnitude of songs begins to feel like an internal mix tape you can’t shut off.
Yet for all that, it’s hard to be too angry at a Cameron Crowe movie. There’s affection in nearly every frame, and he manages too many great bits like Alec Baldwin’s cameo as Drew’s boss. CroweWorld simply loses its firm orbit around our own world and spins off to a place where actually living there'which once only felt improbable'now feels impossible.