By Michael Clayton Copeland
Last night I revisited Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown.” A visit I make yearly. I refuse to give up on it. I know this man’s intentions, and I know the greatness he possesses. And “Elizabethtown” has so much greatness. There are many moments in the film that make you wince, but the “winciest” of winces comes from missed-opportunities and wasted gold.
Orlando Bloom was the first mistake. Apparently, Cameron pushed for him, too. I’d like to believe that Cameron realized his mistake during production, and that time and money was what kept him from stopping production and re-casting, but the guy cannot act. The film rests on his shoulders, and the guy just cannot act. Granted, the script by Cameron didn’t always help either, as he chose to both rush and shift emotional arcs several times throughout the story. The two best examples of poor acting meeting poor writing, for me, are when Bloom’s character is sitting at the kitchen table with various members of the family and decides to stand up to them for the first time about cremation and not being from California, and the scene with Kirsten Dunst in the banquet hall where he confesses his love for her. Both of these scenes call for big outbursts that make no sense coming out of Bloom’s character’s mouth. We have been lead to believe that he is quietly dealing with the loss of his Father and the “fiasco” of his career, so to hear him give grandiose speeches that profess his frustrations and love are incredibly misplaced and unbelievable. He comes off as bi-polar; incredibly tormented — and it makes zero sense. And no matter how great the music is, no matter how great the cinematography by John Toll is, it cannot save most viewers from pulling out of the story.
And we cannot ignore the lack of focus. Cameron has a four hour film here that was condensed to two, and it’s incredibly obvious. Whether it’s the cousin Jessie storyline involving his relationship with his son and his own Father, or it’s Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer’s storyline as Orlando Bloom’s Mother and Sister dealing with the loss of the family Patriarch, “Elizabethtown” suffers from too much juggling. We never have time to care about anyone.
There are other distractions like Kirsten Dunst’s southern accent mysteriously disappearing and re-appearing throughout the film, but I still find my way back to this movie year after year.
I mentioned the music and cinematography earlier, and these are both key components. Tom Petty and Elton John are heard throughout with perfect marriages to the beautifully-shot imagery on screen, and it should be of no surprise. This is Cameron’s strength. But even more so than this, there are brilliantly written and well-crafted sequences in “Elizabethtown” that have the makings of another Cameron Crowe masterpiece. That is why the film is so frustrating for me.
Whether it’s the opening scene with the truck full of recalled shoes backing up to the loading dock intercut with the Bloom character’s long and reflective journey to his boss’s office, or the tap-dance sequence with Susan Sarandon, the movie has a lot of strength. I also loved the recurring “secret connoisseur of last looks” thread that takes us through the entire story. And the final road trip scene. And Alec Baldwin’s character. And the flashback sequences. And the “Free Bird” performance under the sprinklers.
But, the final cut was the final cut. What we saw is what we saw. It’s a shame that Cameron Crowe’s immense talent wasn’t fully realized in this one. “Potential” is the strongest word you can use to sum up this effort. But the film is still very much worthy of your time. When we look back over this man’s career, much can be taken from “Elizabethtown” to include in the highlight reel. His love of music and its importance is on display here, arguably second only to “Almost Famous.” And that passion is intoxicating, and contagious. He gives his characters great poetry, and while there is plenty of bad execution of said poetry to point to in his career, you can’t deny his love for his characters and humanity at that. He’s a tremendous songwriter in my opinion, and in the case of “Elizabethtown,” it just might be his first album where you’re allowed to skip a track or two.