Hippo Manchester
October 20, 2005

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Elizabethtown (PG-13)
by Amy Diaz

Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst offer aphorisms and closeups to showcase their cuteness in the picture-perfect but tone-deaf Elizabethtown, a quirky soundtrack that was back-engineered into a movie.

Turn the sound down on Elizabethtown and just play its eclectic mix of rock, folky country and alterna-indie music and you could, for a moment or two of this prolonged iPod ad, mistakenly believe youíve stumbled onto a good movie. The two look good and look good together, even if they never display any chemistry. If you have the sound down and you canít hear the stale dialogue, I suppose itís harder to tell whatís chemistry and whatís simply attractive people shot in good lighting. If you were going to tell a tale of a young manís journey from his callow youth to his more mellow, open adulthood, you couldnít ask for much better visuals than Bloom, Dunst, the collection of personalities that are the supporting characters, the Kentucky countryside where most of the movie takes place and the western U.S., which serves as a backdrop for the movieís final act. It looks very nice. So nice that it occasionally distracts you from the movie, a fact that, whether they planned it or not, is a real win for the filmmakers.

Drew (Bloom) is a man on the knifeís edge, literally, of ending it all. Heís lost his job, failed big and publicly in his career and been dumped by his girlfriend. He is posed to toss aside this cruel world, until something truly bad happens and he learns that his father has died. At first, Drew seems a little peeved that he must put off his suicide plans to deal with this family tragedy but his trip to bring his fatherís remains back to his mother take a weird turn almost immediately. On a nearly empty plane ride to Kentucky (where his dad was visiting family when he died), Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a chirpy, chatty flight attendant who immediately develops a creepy-odd crush on Drew and sends him off with directions to tiny Elizabethtown and her phone number. Drew eventually finds this Brigadoon of goodhearted American values and reconnects with his family and endures (or, rather, we endure) a seemingly endless amount of wackiness from his familials. As the funeral nears, Drew finds himself unable to talk to either his new family or his old (including a sister played by Judy Greer or his mother played by Susan Sarandon) and so he calls Claire. They strike up a friendship and then a flirtation and then a romance and then they engage in what feels like about four different scenes where they say goodbye ďforever.Ē

The movie, I think, wants to teach us about the surprising nature of love, the importance of family and the resiliency of the human spirit. Or maybe it just wants to help My Morning Jacket, which is track six on the soundtrack, sell more albums. I hope for the sake of the filmís director Cameron Crowe it is the latter, because at that they have a shot. Though the movie looks good and has a nice mix-tape soundtrack, the story and characters are still waiting for development. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the movie is that the Claire/Drew romance takes place almost entirely during montages where we see them talking to each other while music plays but we donít hear what they say. This means the very foundation of their great love is not only unknowable to us but is deemed less important than a Ryan Adams song and shots of Dunst in the bathtub. The movie essentially develops its characters without us and then wants us to trust them that the heavy lifting has already been done.

Somewhere during the two-hour-long haul of this film, it occurred to me that not only did I not know what this movie was about (is it a romance? A coming of age tale? A family story? A road movie? Yes, to all of those, and also no) the movie didnít know either. It tries on plots and themes with the speed and carelessness of someone trying on parts of outfits in a dressing room. Itís doubtful that these pieces will add up to any kind of meaningful, coherent wardrobe, you realize, but golly they sure look cute on.