Friday, October 21, 2005

Leavin' Town

As sad as it is for me to report, the bad buzz surrounding Elizabethtown is by and large a pretty accurate assessment. Up until now I’ve enjoyed all of Cameron Crowe’s movies this misstep is particularly painful after his incredibly solid one-two punch of Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky at the beginning of the decade, two films listed at the top of my favorite films in their respective years. Unfortunately the problems on this film spread far and wide. There are a few instances where Crowe achieves his trademark synthesis of music and film that result in sheer beauty but these are only fleeting moments that temporarily make us forget what a bloated, sloppy, mess of a movie this is.

The brunt of the public’s criticism and initial resistance to the film will probably land on the performances of Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst and this is somewhat justified but not entirely. As with almost all of his performances, Orlando Bloom very much looks the part and for this he does deserve credit, but not enough to disguise that he cannot always act it. His absolutely dismal comic timing made me wonder if the originally cast Ashton Kutcher might have been better fitted for the role. Kirsten Dunst is rather annoying and the attempted accent does not make matters any better but before things delve too deeply into bashing beautiful people, it must be acknowledged that the characters are inherently lacking in themselves. We’ve seen examples of very skilled acting from Bloom and Dunst in films like Black Hawk Down or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Cat’s Meow so we know that great performances are attainable.

With the characters of Drew Baylor and Claire Colburn, Crowe has scripted his two least interesting and engaging lead characters in his career. In Bloom, Crowe is clearly fishing for a performance on par with John Cusack or Tom Cruise in their heyday but what he does not take into account is that he first has to script a character as personable and sympathetic as Lloyd Dobbler or Jerry Maguire. There are some moments of reprieve in as we are treated to a forceful cameo by Alec Baldwin in the beginning and a great ten-minute segment where Susan Sarandon is given the chance to really act instead of being relegated to hamming it up during trite intervals of supposed comic relief.

There are a few nuggets of nice ideas here that are trapped in a film that will not allow them to meet their potential. Particularly nice is the “last look” voice-over and the conflict of burial versus cremation, but neither are given the chance to grow. The “last look” is especially disappointing in that it has the potential to exist in a heartbreakingly poignant scene but is squandered on the light-weight frivolity here. The movie is not a complete fiasco and only a partial failure. We still get the excellent scenes with Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” and the climactic “Freebird” that instill hope with Crowe’s next film he will find himself more concise and back on track.


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Cinema Journal said...

Why don't you kick Michael Atkinson or J. Hoberman's ass and write for the Voice?

This review gets a "cineholla", while perhaps the movie doesn't. (I haven't seen it yet, but from reading your critique, I won't.)