Monday, October 3, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Elizabethtown (2005)

Directed by Cameron Crowe
Orlando Bloom
Kirsten Dunst
Susan Sarandon
Judy Greer 
(CLYDE NOTE:  This a reboot of the first review I ever wrote for my old blog.  When I finally made the decision to move all my writing to Clyde’s stuff, it was the first review hat made the trip.  When I transferred it, there wasn’t much to it.  Just a handful of pictures and one video.  The marquee was lousy as well, seeing as how it was a first effort.  But reading the text I discovered something important.  How can I describe it?  I’ll describe it the same way Donald Sutherland’s professor in Animal House described the novel he was working on:  It was a piece of shit.  But I was in a hurry to start the transfer and decided to get back to Elizabethtown another day.  That day was kind of forced on me last night when I accidentally deleted some of the pictures form my web albums that went with the review.  I decided that since I had to redo the photo’s I might as well redo the whole damn thing.  And I actually watched this thing again on Netflix instant watch to see if my opinion would change now that I’m older and wiser.  But no, just like the original review I wrote, the movie is mostly crap as well.  But here is my own rebooted movie review.)

Having taken a four year coffee break since having brought Vanilla Sky to the big screen, Cameron Crowe awakened from his slumber to bring us Elizabethtown. It took him five years to bring Jerry Maguire to the screen, so the fact that his work output is increasing is an encouraging sign.  If he ever gets to a level where his output is once every three years, I’m sure he’ll collapse from exhaustion.  (As it turned out, I was overly optimistic. Crowe’s next feature will be We Bought A Zoo scheduled for release in December. It’s been six years since Elizabethtown Clyde)
As I always say though, if you’re going to make something you ought to be sure you’re making it right, and if it takes you four or five years to get from initial concept to perfection, then so be it. However, if it takes you that long to make a film and it turns out to be crap, don’t let it eat at you too much that you spent so much time creating a pile of donkey doo-doo. But take heart.  Elizabethtown isn’t  a total waste, but the product that Crowe ended up with is a long way from perfection.

Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) designs what is suppose to be the world’s first perfect tennis shoe for his company. He has spent the past seven or eight years of his life designing the shoe that’s like “walking on a cloud”. The shoe flops big time causing the company he works for to lose almost a billion dollars ($972 million to be exact). 
As Drew walks through corporate headquarters to receive his walking papers, the former Golden Boy is treated as if everyone just found out that he has melanoma.  In fact, death seems to be preferable than losing his status as a big shot revolutionary shoe designer and being fired by head honcho Phil DeVoss (Alec Baldwin) who is “ill equipped in the philosphy of failure.”   And to emphasize this point, DeVoss walks Drew through corporate headquarters making damn sure he understands that he alone will take the fall for what his failure will cost DeVoss, the company, and some of the employees.
Drew decides to commit suicide, and rigs up his exercise bike as some sort of half assed harakiri machine that would have made Jack Kevorkian pea green with envy.  He is about to embark on his journey into darkness, when the phone rings, thus enabling his life and Crowe’s movie to continue a while longer.  Correction, make that a whole lot longer.
On the phone is his sister Heather (Judy Greer) calling to let him know that his crappy day has really gone to shit because their father, Mitch,  has died in Elizabethtown, Kentucky and it is up to Drew to fly there and take care of funeral arrangements. Drew temporarily postpones his suicide attempt, although it’s too late to retrieve his belongs which he had unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk to the delight of lucky scavengers below. 
He is accompanied to the airport by his mother, Hollie Baylor (Susan Sarandon) and his sis.   He promises them that he will bring dear old dad’s body back in two days and that Daddy Mitch will be dressed in the “blue suit”.  And having completed his mission, he’ll then be able to finish his own suicide and join Daddy in the great hereafter for Elizabethtown Part II. 
He  hops on a plane to Louisville, where he meets stewardess Claire Coburn (Kirsten Dunst).  Somehow, Drew ends up as the only passenger in coach, and she requests that he move to first class.  Drew is unwilling to go until she tells him in a very polite way to move his ass to the front because her own tired ass doesn’t want to have to keep walking to the back of the plane all night long.  Of course, the fact that the only other passengers on this plane are in first class, and just a handful of them at that,  tells us one of three things: 

1. This is actually a new Twilight Zone movie that we’ve begun watching.
2. The Only people who fly to  Kentucky must be filthy rich
3. Nobody in their right mind goes to Louisville unless they play basketball or eat a lot of oats.
I think the correct answer here is number 3.  I’ve been to Kentucky, I was in fact born there.   But except when the horsies come out to play every May, who in their right mind would want to go there on purpose?  And that’s in the big city of Louisville.  
Compared to Harlan though,  Elizabethtown  probably seems like an exotic resort, just by way of comparison.  On my list, Kentucky falls somewhere in between Alabama and Mississippi as a vacation getaway state.  No offense to my relatives past present and future that still reside there, but it is what it is and I’m sworn to truthiness. 
Once Drew gets comfortable in his new seating arrangement, Claire attempts to strike up a conversation with Drew but he is insistent on wallowing in his misfortune, something he’ll have in common with about 40 percent of the users of Facebook some four or five years later.  But Claire is persistent, no matter how much Drew tries to shun her.  Reluctantly, he succumbs to  Claire’s charms and from that point on were not sure if we’re watching a quirky romantic comedy, the tragic story of one’s life, or as you’ll soon see when Drew hits the big town,  an extended version of the long ago almost forgotten television show Evening Shade.  Sorry Burt. 

In Elizabethtown, Drew meets up with cousin Jesse (Paul Schneider) who travels with him to the funeral home where Mitch is laid out in his blue suit.  Mitch examines his father up close and personal, doesn’t seem to be too overcome with grief, but is inspired  to think of one word:  whimsical.  Why?  As far as I can tell the word hasn’t one single thing to do with anything that happens in this film except that in one really weird moment, Drew actually believes his father is smiling back at him.  All of this happens to the tune of  Elton John wailing away in the background on My Father’s Gun.  What is the significance?   I don’t know, maybe Cameron Crowe promised Elton some residuals or something.
Afterwards, Drew heads to the big family and friend get together where they celebrate the deceased person’s life while eating like a bunch of pigs.  Or is that eating a bunch of pigs?  There’s way too many of  them to be named here and most of them have little consequence as to later film events. Some of them don’t even have real identitites and are referred to in the IMDB credits with names like Another Cousin.  However, I do think I recognized two of my own cousins and relatives, and an old grade school buddy in the crowd.  
We get to meet each and every one of them just as Jack does.  It is all very sentimental, heartwarming, and as in the case of Samson the kid from hell, mildly amusing at times.  But in the end, it is no different than being asked by your girlfriend’s mother to have a look at the family photograph album.   There is no real connection.
And that’s exactly what Aunt Dora does.  She takes Drew to  see the pictures of all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, and friends.   But just like Drew,  you still really don’t know the first thing about any of them. Worse yet, they don’t tell us enough about Drew’s father so that by the end of the film, we’re still kind of in the dark and clueless about him too.

But maybe all of that is a side journey for what the film is really about. Drew hooks back up with Claire and an unconventional non-romance begins between the two of them. They start their non-relationship by spending a whole evening talking to each other on the phone, shortly after Drew’s girlfriend Ellen breaks up with him. 
Claire suggests that Drew needs to take a road trip of discovery.  For the most part though, the conversation is a wasted opportunity. Much of the conversation is done in silence as the song Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams plays in the background for no particular reason except Crowe seems to love his soundtracks.  Clever choice of songs, but it simply detracts from the business at hand and drags the scene out endlessly.  There is a funny bit in the hotel hall  with a guy from a wedding party but  by the time Claire and Drew hang up and meet again, you’ll feel like three days have passed instead of one night.  Crap, I kept trying to figure out what they powered their cell phones with to enable them to talk that long without a recharge.
But have no fear.  The loving couple spend real time together that very same day where we travel along as they buy an urn, visit a monument to Colonel Sanders, and horse around in a cemetery.   Claire and Drew finish the night with the big…..well, no they don’t.  They don’t even kiss because  Claire says that enables them to be friends for the rest of their lives.  So the whole purpose of the past half hour of this film was what exactly?
The long debate continues.  Will Mitch be buried, cremated or half buried and half cremated?  The townsfolk want a burial.  Hollie wants a cremation.  Sis just wants Drew to get his ass back to Oregon.  Clyde just wanted them to drop the body off of the Brent-Spence Bridge and for the movie to get on with whatever it was Crowe was trying to do.

If Crowe had made a nice hour and forty minute film concentrating on the relationship between Claire and Drew, it may have been a good film. But there are so many needless side trips that don’t amount to anything, and most of these scenes are nothing more than setups for the "big funeral scene".
For instance, Drew spends a lot of time with his cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider), and there is a lot of talk about how Jessie’s band once played on the same bill as Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I guess we’re supposed to see him as sad and pathetic. As it turns out though, it is nothing more than a set up for later events at the Mitch’;s  funeral.
Much of the same can be said for Drew’s mother Hollie (Susan Sarandon.) We see her in bits and pieces until she too lands in Elizabethtown for her husband’s farewell and to give us the reason why she actually is in the film at all. And although it’s a funny bit, it’s not much of a payoff for such a long  never ending preliminary round.
Then there’s Bill Banyon (Bruce McGill).  He supposedly caused Mitch and Hollie to lose some money years ago or something like that.  It’s never made clear exactly what happened or how it happened.  It doesn’t matter, because it’s here only for Bill to make some kind of a very brief very weak confession at Mitch’s funeral.  To put it another way, it’s just a side story that leads to another dead end, or should I say dead Mitch?

I liked Orlando Bloom in this film, and the film’s failure can’t really be attributed to him.  If his character Drew seems a bit too morose and depressed at times, you  would be too because you have a tendency to be kind of  on the down side yourself if you were no longer a big wheel who designed the Späsmodica shoe, and your old man decided to keel over in Kentucky. 
In pirates, Bloom was  Abbot to Johnny Depp’s Costello and it worked well.   He runs into the same problem here.  The only time the film comes alive at all is when Claire shows up.  His scenes with Claire are fun to watch for the most part, but again it’s Kirsten Dunst who carries them and makes most of the film worth watching. It just seems to me that Bloom does better in films when he has a strong character to play off of. Whether or not he will ever be able to truly carry a film on his own,  still remains unanswered to this day.  But he does have the Hobbit thingamajiggy in his future where he’ll reprise his role of Legolas Greenleaf, and a Three Musketeers film that will be out here in the states in a couple of weeks after having already debuted overseas.  He plays the Duke of Buckingham in that one.
But the biggest problem with this film is that it could use one helluva lot of tightening.  It goes on way too long with so many scenes that lead to dead ends, which may be fitting considering the subject matter but hardly entertaining.  Trim about twenty minutes, and Cameron Crowe might have had something.   But even at that, he would have had to dream up some kind of a plot which amounted to more than what we got for wading through this puddle of sludge.  The only person on the planet that this film means anything to must be Crowe.  Elizabethtown did manage to make it’s budget back in worldwide gross, or maybe a bit more or a bit less depending on which figures you use, but a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that both Dunst and Bloom were riding high on star power at the time.   She because of the Spiderman films, he because of the Lord of the Rings and the three Pirates of the Caribbean Films.
But please, don’t let me go without mentioning the fine outstanding performance of  Tim Devitt as Mitch’s dad.  A corpse hasn’t been played this believably since Fred Gwynne played Herman Munster.  So my hat’s off to him.  He deserved better than this movie as a Eulogy.

During the last twenty minutes or so, after being urged on by Claire who has given him full instructions on how to enjoy himself, Drew goes on a road trip.  Unfortunately, you will be awfully tempted to hit the road yourself and return the DVD to the video store long before Drew ever makes it to wherever Claire is sending him.   You’ll laugh, you’ll cry….no you won’t.  You’ll see Drew do that stuff but  at that point you won’t give a rat’s ass.
I was tempted to but somehow managed to stick it out to the bitter end.  But the fact that I was tempted not to means I have no choice but to give you a grade of C-, a grade which can be directly attributed to some of the actors.  By that I mean if it weren’t for a few winning performances, by Dunst, Sarandon, Schneider, Greer, and Baldwin, the grade would have been much worse. 
And if you want, you can watch the film on Netflix instant watch, at least as I write this.  (10/3/2011).  But you know Netflix:  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Or is that Qwikster?  No, Qwikster is the DVD branch.  I think.  Maybe.  Possibly.  Who gives a damn.  Here’s the trailer.  I’m going to watch some Buffy and cleanse myself.

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