Review: Elizabethtown

I’m late. I don’t care. The hype, the critics, the public have all moved on to new things. It’s the perfect time to see a movie.

I saw Elizabethtown.

Guess what? I liked it. I liked it a lot.

I went to see the movie with my girlfriend and some friends. We all wanted to see the movie, but none of them were dying to see it. I was anxious to see the final version, but I wanted to see the movie with my girlfriend and finally the opportunity presented itself.

The theatre was nearly empty, but that was a reflection of the late hour and lateness in its run. I actually enjoyed the movie more because I didn’t have to listen to the squeals of 14-year-old girls over Orlando Bloom.

I had read a few reviews and actually watched Ebert and Roeper talk about the flick on their show. Mostly, the reviews were negative. A few mentioned points in the movie where their suspension of disbelief failed. Others wailed against Kirsten Dunst and her teeth or Orlando Bloom’s character’s ring tone. It all read like extreme nitpicking. It felt as if several film school dropouts decided it was “Pick on Cameron Crowe Day” and derided the film as not up to snuff. Without seeing the film, I sensed these critics were being too harsh… too full of themselves.

Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs up. After seeing it myself, I’d have to agree. It isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great date movie with some really amazing music.

I acquired an early draft of the script quite a while ago and read about a third of it before putting it down. I had decided that I wanted to be surprised and find out how this movie ended while experiencing the movie itself. I think I would have been put off by the changes and wondered why my personal vision of Drew Baylor didn’t match Bloom’s portrayal. It was a conscience decision and one that I’m glad I made.

I can’t imagine Ashton Kutcher as the lead, which was writer/director Cameron Crowe’s first choice. Actually, if Tom Cruise circa “The Firm” were around he’d have been perfect. I admit that I’m not a huge fan of Kirsten Dunst, but the sheer volume of hatred on the net for this one actress and her funky teeth is quite overpowering. I don’t get it and probably never will. In my movie world, I probably would have switched Dunst out with the barely-onscreen Jessica Biehl who plays Drew’s girlfriend who dumps his billion-dollar losing ass.

Speaking of the billion-dollar loss, many reviewers had trouble believing that a company could produce a product that failed in such an enormous way. To them I say, have you forgotten New Coke? It was a monumental failure of unprecedented proportions. It wasn’t a billion dollar loss (Coke actually made money, go figure), but it was a pretty big fiasco. Drew and Mercury (the Nike of Cameron’s world) could have created this level of failure. It already happened once before in the real world. So, I was not “taken out of the movie” due to the billion-dollar loss.

Another complaint was the supposed lack of chemistry between Dunst and Bloom. I have to disagree there as well. I think the reviewers were forgetting that Drew planned on going home and killing himself after this business with his father was finished. He was confused and this whirlwind of a stewardess… this perky, red hat-wearing blonde came storming in and changed all that. Luckily for Drew, she also has impeccable skills as a scrap-booker and Cameron Crowe’s taste in music.

Case in point, anyone who says that the phone scene was not classic Crowe doesn’t understand good dialogue. It was actually because of this scene that I stopped reading the script. It really sang on the page and I knew seeing it on the big screen would be special. Talking on the phone and doing a million other things at the same time reminded me of my girlfriend. We live too damn far apart and our phone conversations are what keep us going on a day-to-day basis. It was like watching ourselves on screen except that Orlando Bloom has more hair than me. Right after “We peaked on the phone” my girlfriend turned to me and said, “That’s us.”

The film has three separate strands of story going on and yet they interweave in a way that was real to me. The ability of Crowe’s characters to relate to the audience is genuine. What I mean to say is that everybody has the crazy uncle or the odd cousin who does his own thing. My thoery is those who disliked those scenes or characters probably felt that it hit too close to home… that they themselves were the black sheep of their family.

You can say that Susan Sarandon’s character was unrealistic, but it felt especially realistic to me because it was so uncharacteristic of what the audience would expect as “normal.” It was unique and not boringly flat and predictable. The wake scene was both hilarious, touching and uncomfortable at the same time. It was this odd mixture that I believe too many of the reviewers didn’t have the experience to handle – characters on screen not caricatures.

Of course, you can’t review a Cameron Crowe movie and not talk about the music. In short, it’s brilliant. If anything is a tip off that it’s a Crowe film, the music being totally awesome is it. He always brings this sense of mood inspiring tracks to his flicks that blows me away. The fact that he uses, generally, contemporary artists to pull this off is even more astonishing. It’s easy when you’re John Williams with a full orchestra to create emotion. It’s all together something different when you’re choosing songs based on the moods they convey and represent. Crowe is the best at matching scene’s tone with music that conveys that same tone.

Elizabethtown is not about failures. It’s about new beginnings – something Cameron Crowe has explored previously in Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and even Vanilla Sky. This movie is not a failure. It’s not even a new beginning. It’s a date movie wrapped up in a story about family. It’s also about moving forward no matter what “they” say.

And critics be damned.