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Wed October 12, 2005
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"F" is for failure, in this case Cameron Crowe's flawed Elizabethtown. "Failure" also could have been a rich theme sparked by the failure of its lead character, Drew (Orlando Bloom) in designing a shoe that his boss, Phil (Alec Baldwin) says is so bad it "may cause an entire generation to return to bare feet." That is the wittiest line of the film; when the two characters repeat Phil's observation that the loss is $982 million or "almost a billion dollars," as if the rounding were clever, the film's fate as a failure itself is sealed. The idea that there are strategies for dealing with failure, potentially a powerful motif morphing into theme, is lost among forced attempts at "cute."
Like Crowe's Jerry Maguire, in disgrace and losing and gaining girlfriends, Drew also meets cute another woman, Claire (Kirsten Dunst), and herein lies the core weakness of the film. Everything is cute, from an all-night cell phone conversation to a cross-country journey engineered by Claire. There is no gravity, no sense that intelligence rather than shallow romance is in charge of his fate. She shows up at major points in the narrative, emphasizing her dimple rather than her insight, in a gosh-gee attitude, responded to with a Bloom smile that is his only emotion worthy of acting at all.
The musical score is pop-quirky, to be expected from pop-obsessed Crowe (think Almost Famous), with musicians as eclectic as Eastmountainsouth, Tom Petty, and Ryan Adams. But invariably the tunes reflect generic romantic comedies rather than the work of a director who challenges the cults of beauty and fame in more substantial films.
I loved Susan Sarandon doing a tap dance at the wake for Drew's dad, but she introduced that bit to the assembled mourners with a groaner about a boner. That's how off balance the film is. Zach Braff's Garden State may have been forced whimsy, but at least its grieving protagonist is discernibly changed by his experiences. Bloom's character in Elizabethtown just smiles the same as he did even when publicly humiliated at the beginning. It is possible he is a son of Benjamin from The Graduate, both little changed from beginning to end of their films.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com