Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin
(PG-13, 123 min.)
"The longest way round is the shortest way home." Anonymous
Like a Hallmark greeting card Elizabethtown is sweet, earnest, and well meaning, but it lacks any real depth or insight. You pass a pleasant two hours under its ephemeral spell but never really connect to the leads or take their situation seriously.
The director Cameron Crowe also wrote and produced the film, and much of it is based on his own life experience. Maybe that’s the problem. He is too close to the material and has no one there to veto his sentimentality. Thus, Elizabethtown tends to be overlong and self-indulgent. What worked so well in Jerry Maguire falls a little flat here.
My first impression is that Elizabethtown could use a good dose of editing, but apparently 18 minutes have been cut since its Toronto debut. All I can say is that one must really have been a beaut.
Fans of Orlando Bloom or Kirsten Dunst will find their characters cute and appealing, but we need more. For instance we can never really take the plot seriously. The film opens as Drew Baylor (Bloom) has to face up to the failure of his highly promoted athletic shoe, the Spasmotica. On the long walk to his official firing, he greets the assorted worried stares of his coworkers with the same line. “I’m fine,” he says as he tallies all those last looks of compassion or contempt.
Alec Baldwin is excellent in his cameo as the bombastic CEO intent upon making Drew know the implications of this billion-dollar loss. In between confessions that he cries a lot now, he makes Drew aware that because of this loss he will now have to fire the entire staff of the corporation’s global environmental project. The shoe’s failure is so monumental, he insists, that it is enough to make people want to go barefoot. The coup de grace, however, is his personal sound effect accompanying what he describes as excrement hitting the fan all over the globe.
That evening Drew’s attempts to end his life by strapping a big knife to the chest guard of his exercise bike seem more manufactured for laughs than the real thing, and we never really take this suicide attempt seriously. A phone call interrupts his efforts wherein he learns of the real death of his father, Mitch, who has died while visiting his brother in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. And as eldest son, it is Drew’s task to go there to usher back the remains.
In the hands of more disciplined director, this journey home is ripe with possibilities for a character to reexamine his life and start anew. But Crowe surrounds Drew with a parade of overdone and inauthentic characters so that we feel just as manipulated and uncomfortable in their presence as Drew does.
Claire Baylor (Kirsten Dunst) somehow charms some life out of a part that is at the very least unrealistic, bordering on creepy, as one critic stated. Drew is the only passenger on the late night flight to Louisville, and in spite of some very obvious signals that he just wants to be left alone and get some sleep, Claire insists on plopping herself down next to him and yammering the night away. Not really the kind of behavior we might expect from most flight attendants, who would probably welcome the chance to get a little nap in themselves. In fact, Claire is kind of a benevolent Evelyn Draper from Play Misty for Me, with Drew too preoccupied and sweet to give her the old Clint Eastwood treatment.
Equally unsettling is his mother Hollie, played by Susan Sarandon. Her reaction to the death of her spouse is to consume herself in a manic program of tap dancing lessons, comedy school, organic cooking, plumbing and auto repair. She at first refuses to attend the Elizabethtown memorial service, the rift between herself and them explained glibly as their perception that she stole Mitch away from his roots. When she does actually show up at the service, however, we wish she would have stayed at home and practiced her comedy routines at the school instead of here.
Most of Elizabethtown’s residents are as multidimensional as the casts of Andy of Mayberry or The Dukes of Hazard. Actually, those characters were a little more varied. These are too uniformly sweet and homespun, parochial and unsophisticated. The only possible exception is his cousin Jesse, who longs for his drummer band younger days as he negotiates his way between a disapproving father and misbehaving son.
But even here Crowe has to schmaltz it up. Claire, providing another pat solution from her duffle bag of bromides, gives Drew a videotape guarantied to shape up Jessie’s notorious screamer. He pops it into the TV and a very manly speaker, right down to his tool belt and red plaid shirt, promises to let the children watch him bring down a house hopelessly infested with termites -- if only they promise to obey their parents from now on. Of course the toddlers mouth the oath and they are treated to not just one explosion, but several dramatic reenactments of it as well. A cheap laugh, but are any of you parents convinced?
The film ends with a road trip home where Drew sprinkles his father’s ashes from towering bridges and dances in the woods as per instructions from Claire’s hand crafted atlas. But dancing in the woods where and how someone tells you to doesn’t quite make it, and instead of cool CD’s and a cutesy map that guides him to Claire’s waiting embrace, we wish that Drew would have marched to the beat of his own drummer, however distant and far away.
Part of the manufactured charm of Elizabethtown is the crowded kitchen where Aunt Dora, played by Paula Deen, of the Food Network’s Paula’s Home Cooking, holds court. Most of the time she stands at the stove, turning out a perennial flow of sizzling pancakes, which she dispenses along with homemade bits of wisdom and gossip to any and all.
After Mitch’s memorial service, everyone troops to this cozy abode, bringing sympathy and fond memories as well as the inevitable casseroles. One gentleman announces proudly that he has brought his famous Hash Brown Casserole.
At first I thought this just another of Crowe’s over the top creations engineered to coax a chuckle out of us. Imagine my surprise to learn not only that it exists, but that it is a sought after item on the Cracker Barrel menu.
After looking at its ingredients, I must say, it looks pretty good, too, in a greasy and deliciously decadent kind of way.
Hash Brown Casserole
- 10.25 oz. can condensed cream of chicken soup
- 8 oz. Colby cheese - grated
- 1/2 cup melted butter OR margarine
- 1 sm. onion - minced
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 lb. bag frozen shredded hash browns
- Spray a 13" X 9" X 2" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
- In a bowl, combine soup, cheese, butter, onion, salt, and pepper.
- Gently fold the potatoes into the mixture and pour into prepared pan.
- Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until heated through and top is browned.
Serves : 8
Prep. Time : 0:45
Recipe Source: Robbie's Recipes