Take a Trip to Elizabethtown

The premise of Elizabethtown, directed by Cameron Crowe and staring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, is practically a clone of 2004’s popular independent film Garden State: a young man, feeling lost in life, comes back to his roots after the death of an alienated parent. He ends up finding a new purpose in life and an unexpected love.

Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor, a young shoe designer who watches everything in his life slip from his grasp when his much anticipated “Spasmotica” shoe loses his company $972 million. Drew is literally seconds away from committing suicide when he learns that his father died of a heart attack. He flys out to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to bring home his father’s body. Upon his arrival, Drew discovers a side of his father he never knew existed, and feels guilty to never have joined him on his yearly trips to Elizabethtown.

Because Elizabethtown’s plot is relatively simple, the acting is what holds the movie together. Although Ashton Kutcher was actually the producer’s first choice to play Drew Baylor, Orlando Bloom brings the part to life. Bloom successfully convinces the audience that he is a typical, American boy.

Elizabethtown is not action-orientated like many of Bloom’s previously films, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Kingdom of Heaven, and the script leaves little room to hide poor acting skills. Bloom’s performance in Elizabethtown proves that he is more than just a pretty face with a great accent.

Kirsten Dunst gives a less-even performance. Playing a quirky flight attendant that Drew meets on his trip to Elizabethtown, she seems to be developing her character as the story progresses. This makes it difficult to get a sense of Claire’s personality. Watch out for her southern accent, which steadily disappears as the movie progresses. But apart from the dialectical issues, Claire’s ambiguity isn’t entirely Dunst’s fault. The writers try so hard to make Claire mysterious that they don’t give her any depth or background.

There are many other stars in the film that give great performances. Alec Baldwin is brilliant as Drew Baylor’s boss. Baldwin manages to turn what could have been a very bland and one-dimensional role into a fascinating and humorous character. Unfortunately, due to Baldwin’s minor role, you might miss him if you blink.

Jessica Biel (Stealth) plays Drew’s girlfriend who breaks up with him as soon as he loses his job. Judy Greer (13 Going On 30) gives a solid performance as Heather Baylor, Drew’s emotional and anxious sister.

And only Susan Saradon could pull off a character like Hollie Baylor, the neurotic widow who reacts to her husband’s death by taking tap dance lessons and joining comedy school. Sarandon is such a great actress that she almost manages to salvage a poorly written and completely inappropriate scene at her husband’s memorial service.

The real star in this film is the town itself and the community within it. As Drew drives into Elizabethtown, people point him in the direction of the funeral home without his ever having to ask directions. Shopkeepers hang banners saluting Drew’s father in their windows, and the entire town shows up for his memorial service. All in all, the town has as much an impact on Drew as Claire does.

There are actually two different versions of Elizabethtown. The first version was not well received, prompting producers to cut out eighteen minutes and revise the ending. Even with all the editing work, Elizabethtown still has many less-than-stellar scenes. There are so many different story lines that the movie never achieves a final rhythm. Many scenes just fall short, like the disastrous funeral scene that culminates when a papier-mach?e bird accidentally catches on fire.

Then there is the final scene, a road trip that Drew takes to locations such as the hotel where Martin Luther King spent his last night, that has the audience checking their watches every two minutes. These poorly constructed scenes take away from the film’s message.

One of the most notable scenes has Drew and Claire talking on their cell phones for an entire night, and then meeting to watch the sun rise. Apart from individual scenes that last too long or fail to make their point, the movie presents an interesting and inspiring portrayal of a family who comes together after a tragedy, becoming stronger in the process of making what could have been a tragic funeral into a celebration of life.

In a way, Elizabethtown is a lot like the bizarre-looking “Spasmotica” shoe. If you can’t get past the film’s fluff, you will miss its message. Elizabethtown ultimately shows snapshots of human nature, failure and the meaning of life that make the movie incredibly insightful and real.