THE TRAILER shows boy meeting girl on an aeroplane flight, with Tom Petty’sLearning to Fly wailing away in the background. The trailer deceives. You do get the boy meets girl scenario, but with it comes several other contrived subplots and underlying themes to boot. Add them all up and Elizabethtown ends up as one big disappointment.
Shoe designer, Drew Baylor (Bloom), is summoned to his company’s headquarters where his narcissistic boss, Phil (Baldwin), informs him that the eight years he has spent working on the oddly named trainer, the Spasmodica, has been wasted. It is a flawed design, it’s about to lose the company 972 million dollars and could result in an entire generation returning back to bare feet. Quite why – or indeed how – a shoe can lose this amount we never find out, but Drew loses his job and considers suicide, saved only by the discovery that his father has just died. Happy material.
Due to the unclear nature of how his brainchild has created “a disaster of mythic proportions”, it’s difficult to accept that he becomes suicidal as a result, especially in a world where a job is no longer for life. However, while the deeply depressed Drew contemplates suicide, his sister calls to tell him that their father has passed away while visiting relatives in his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Instructed by his mother, Hollie (Sarandon), Drew is called upon to travel to Elizabethtown to arrange the funeral, because she is too distraught to do it herself.
A maudlin Drew books an overnight flight from Seattle to Louisville and, as the only passenger on board, catches the attention of the flight attendant, beautiful but cloyingly annoying Claire (Dunst). The chirpy airline attendant bumps him up to first class and gives him her number.
Slowly he becomes indoctrinated to the small town ways that shaped the life of his father, and with his mother threatening to take up tap-dancing lessons to diminish her grief, Drew turns to the eternally upbeat Claire. She makes her way back into his life and manages to save him from eternal depression. The question remains, will their friendship remain platonic or turn into something more?
Elizabethtown’s biggest flaw is the casting of Orlando Bloom, he is overshadowed by the other actors, Dunst and Sarandon in particular, and just ends up looking lost. The film is awash with sentimentality, and falls way short of Cameron Crowe’s usual standards – Jerry Maguire (1996) and Almost Famous (2000).
Crowe’s protagonists are always doppelgangers of his self-image. Like Jerry Maguire, Elizabethtown opens with a talented young man in a creative, cutthroat business, who makes a visionary leap, flops and gets the humiliating heave-ho from his ambitious girlfriend and chief executive.
Like the rock star in Almost Famous, Drew takes a plunge from the big time into the lowbrow world of dim, loveable everyday folk, in this case his own family in Elizabethtown.
But unlike these films, Elizabethtown veers and lurches like a ship without a captain, overloaded with movie references. The central romance is like a firecracker that fizzles when it should sizzle, and the repartee is odd and insufficiently witty. Thankfully, the affectionately drawn supporting characters keep it from falling completely into the pits.