Cameron Crowe has always impressed me as a promising director. Considering that he's 48 years old, I can only mean this in the worst possible way. Each of his films has had some very good points, but they've been hamstrung by a childish sentimentality that occasionally overwhelms his otherwise strong filmmaking instincts.
Luckily, with Elizabethtown, that's no longer a problem: With this latest outing, his childish sentimentality has completely won out and left behind virtually nothing of any quality. Instead of a film, this is a collection of catch-phrases and manipulative emotional moments, all played to a soundtrack of the worst mood-rock in history.
The experience of sitting through this grueling non-movie is roughly equivalent to having your loving and kindly old aunt forcibly pick your nose for two hours. It might bring tears to your eyes, but only because she's finally dug her way through your sinuses and into your optic nerves.
Elizabethtown starts with the following annoying pseudo-philosophical "god-I'm-so-deep" moment: Orlando Bloom, as shoe designer Drew Baylor, says in voice-over, "I've become a connoisseur of last looks." He then goes on in the most irritatingly precious tones to tell us how he lost a billion dollars for his shoe company, and so he's been having a lot of "last looks" from people who watch him as he slowly gets fired by his boss, a shoe executive who is suspiciously named Phil.
Phil is played by Alec Baldwin, who seems to be the only actor in this movie who understands that this is best approached as broad farce. His charming three minutes of screen time are a cruel hoax, since nothing that follows has anything like the comic force of this brief segment.
When it ends, the horrifying voice-over continues, as do the manipulations. It seems that not only has Drew Baylor lost his job, but his father has also just died, and so, in a Raymond Carver moment, he has to leave his cosmopolitan life to go fly out to Kentucky and retrieve dad's body. I wonder if, along the way, he'll come to learn something from these simple country folks, something about what's truly important, something that will be expressed in nauseatingly simplistic filmic conventions? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
But we don't have to wait long! In what would be the worst performance of the decade if it weren't for the fact that Orlando Bloom has already cinched that prize, Kirsten Dunst plays a native Kentuckian flight attendant who starts making the moves on Bloom as soon as he gets on the plane.
In a stream of irritating, high-speed and virtually nonstop dialogue, she tells him her insipid mystical beliefs about peoples' names. "Bens aren't very reliable. Mitches are fun! I'm a Claire ... nobody falls in love with a Claire!" Gee, Claire, maybe that's because you're an idiot? Just a thought.
Anyway, as Bloom's voice-overs fade in and out and music by limp-dicked rockers like Bryan Adams oxymoronically swells on the soundtrack, Drew works his way through memories of his dad, who loved Kentucky even though his wife, daughter and son are self-involved West Coast stereotypes.
While this hackneyed plot is pretty awful, the worst thing about this movie is the dialogue. Which is saying something, since virtually everything in this movie is terrible. But the dialogue is bad enough to warrant an entire textbook analyzing what went wrong with it. No one has a conversation, they just trade bromides. As if in homage to its own awfulness the film actually features a 10-minute segment that's just a phone conversation between Drew and Claire. And at no point do they respond to each other ... they just utter a series of platitudinous non-sequiturs that were written solely for the purpose of being edited into the trailer. Drew says, "You never really know anybody," and Claire says, "I feel like I've been asleep my whole life." Now imagine that crap going on for nine more minutes. It'd be like if Streetcar Named Desire were nothing but Blanche DuBois saying "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," over and over and over again until yellow bile shot out of your ears.
As a result of this style, though, Crowe should be credited for creating a whole new genre. Just as the suspense film gave rise to the action film, it seems that the melodrama has now given rise to the Intense Feelings Film. Whereas a suspense film would build slowly to a violent, even explosive moment, action films are nothing but violence and explosions. Similarly, where melodramas would build character and back story for an ultimate emotional payoff, Elizabethtown is nothing but this payoff scene, played over and over endlessly, without the needless detour through story or character. As a result, we're given no reason to care about any of the Intense Feelings that incessantly flood the screen.
In Crowe's defense, the film is not entirely his fault: Orlando Bloom is awful. He may be pretty, but he's the most lifeless actor working today (now that Kevin Costner isn't working much). Then again, Crowe did approve his casting, which was a mistake of comparable magnitude to not extending the Maginot Line along the Belgian border. Also, the cinematography is god-awful. It's just a series of stock shots that we've seen a million times before, and each one is designed for Maximum Dramatic Effect, which gets a little wearying after the three trillionth wide-angle close-up of Bloom looking morose. Plus, it's hard to overstate the horror of Kirsten Dunst playing a plot contrivance that seems to know it's a plot contrivance. Further, the two-hour run time seems almost intentionally punishing. OK, I guess there's nothing I can say in Crowe's defense. Sorry. Never mind.