If you’ve read any of the pre-release buzz on “Elizabethtown,” it’s no secret that writer/director Cameron Crowe was having major editing problems with the film as late as last month. He screened it in mid-September at the Toronto Film Festival, but was eager to warn critics that the movie was far from finished. Based on feedback from Toronto and other screenings, he cut almost 18 minutes for the final version.
Unfortunately, the final edit still fails to conceal several major drawbacks in plot and development. For an Oscar-winning screenwriter like Crowe, this could easily have been avoided.
It’s sad, because this is a movie you really want to like. Crowe – who wrote and directed both “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous” – based “Elizabethtown” on his own experiences. The film was truly his labor of love, and his effort is certainly present throughout.
But what kills “Elizabethtown” is a lack of focus. During the movie, three separate storylines are vying for position, each overshadowing the other. Each cookie-cutter theme could have been crafted into its own full-length feature, but instead, none of the three is developed to full potential.
First, Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) learns of his father’s death and must travel to Elizabethtown, Ky. for the memorial service. There, he attempts to come to grips with the fact that he never really got to know his father.
Drew also meets his father’s side of the family, in what tries to be a poignant look at small-town family life.
On top of all this, he experiences a budding, romantic comedy-style relationship with a flight attendant named Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst). Instead of complimenting each other, the three storylines only manage to fall on top of themselves and cut each other off.
It doesn’t help that Bloom and Dunst may have the worst chemistry since Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. Bloom has proven to be serviceable in supporting roles when he gets to carry a bow or a sword, but being a leading man is a very different undertaking.
Dunst hit the jackpot with the “Spiderman” series, where overplaying her character is not only necessary, it’s almost a requirement. Here, she can’t carry her weight. I still don’t know if she was supposed to have an accent or not, since she was fading in and out of one every other scene.
But, as I said before, you really want to like this movie. Even if Crowe fell short on the screenplay this time around, he was still able to direct supporting actress Susan Sarandon to one of the best performances of her career.
Indeed, if “Elizabethtown” has a savior, Sarandon has to be it. Despite only receiving about 15 minutes of screen time, her quirky performance as Drew’s mother, Hollie, is a joy to watch. At the memorial service for Drew’s father, she gives a show-stopping speech that is easily the best scene of the film. It’s a shame she didn’t get more opportunities to shine. If Sarandon had better actors to work with and the movie had a more fluid storyline, “Elizabethtown” could have been a great accomplishment.