Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) and Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man) star in this heartfelt romance set against a fantastic rock 'n' roll soundtrack. Hot-shot designer Drew Baylor's (Bloom) life becomes completely unraveled when he loses his father and his job on one fateful day. En route to Elizabethtown to visit his family, Drew meets Claire (Dunst). She's beautiful, unstoppably positive, and just the gal to guide Drew on his journey back home and to teach him what it means to live and love along the way. The film also stars Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Judy Greer, and Jessica Biel. (from Paramount Pictures)
It's interesting that the way in which you receive a movie can change depending on your age and where you're at in your life. When I first saw Cameron Crowe's romantic dramedy Elizabethtown, it was sometime after its DVD release, in 2006, when my family and I were regularly renting DVD's from the now-defunct edited movies service, Clean Films. As a mid-twenties workaholic in the early years of his marriage, the story of Elizabethtown was probably a little wasted on me. In the movie, Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor, a prodigal son of sorts who moved to the big city to find success with the design of a major running shoe. However, when Elizabethtown opens, we immediately learn that Drew's great achievement has been recalled (for reasons we never find out), and it costs the company he works for just under a billion dollars -- and it costs him his job, too. Drowning in an overwhelming sense of failure and loneliness, Drew dumps his prized belongings in the street outside his apartment and plans to end his life... until a fateful phone call interrupts him. It turns out to be his younger sister informing him that their dad has died and it's up to him to fly to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to settle his father's estate. The loss sets him on a journey of self rediscovery and resolution amidst the lowest point in his life.
Since first seeing Elizabethtown, I've not only entered parenthood, but I have felt the crushing weight of failure myself. Admittedly, it's nowhere near the severity of what Drew Baylor experienced, but it's definitely something I can relate to. Bloom's performance of Drew is broad and deep. I was a fan of his work in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy (can we just forget his wooden and angsty Legolas in The Hobbit sequels?), so seeing him in such a down-to-Earth role like a kid from Kentucky is a significant change of pace for him. At first, Bloom plays Drew as shell-shocked and broken, but his trip to Elizabethtown--and beyond--is lively and life-changing for the character. The biggest catalyst for this is when he meets the free-spirit Claire, a stewardess on his flight to Kentucky. She immediately takes an intrusive interest in Drew, but it proves to be just what he needs. The two end up reconnecting over the phone once he's settled into his hotel, and they cultivate a deep friendship that lasts the entire evening (it's kind of amazing that the batteries in their flip phones never gave out). Kirsten Dunst, who's probably most known for her role as MJ in the Tobey Maguire-headlined Spider-Man trilogy, is lovable in this film. I can't say I liked her MJ character all that much, but Claire is pretty adorable here. (And if this movie doesn't make you miss the joys of mix CD's, I'm not sure what will!)
Elizabethtown tackles the subject of death pretty head-on and thoroughly. (If this is a sensitive topic for anyone, I definitely would proceed with caution.) Drew seemed estranged from his father - whom he seemed to love, despite having lost touch with him -- and he struggles with how to process the loss. There's a lengthy scene where he stands over his father lying in an open casket and just stares at his face (which then appears to smile at him). We see Drew's face staring intently at his father's body, and then he awkwardly places his hand over his father's hand. Later, the subject of cremation over burial becomes a hot topic amongst family members, and after he sees a kitchen stove burner lit (with its blue flames visible), he panics and tries to have his father's cremation stopped. His efforts are unsuccessful, however, and we see Drew carry around an urn of his father's ashes for the rest of the movie (and scattering those ashes to the wind in a few scenes). Overall, it's a somber (and sometimes humorous) look at familial loss and dealing with it. Crowe, as director and writer, does a pretty good job balancing the hard, real topics with some more surreal moments (like the live band performance at his father's memorial, for example). As a father to a young boy now myself, and the son of an aging father, it's easy to find things to relate to in this story.
As a romantic story, the heavier topics tend to get in the way of it being purely romantic, but Drew's story with Claire is a great escape for the more dramatic story beats. Bloom and Dunst complement each other nicely, and their relationship stands out as more unique and unusual than what you might come to expect in a rom-com. Jessical Biel plays Drew's sort-of ex, Ellen, but is only present just enough to make Drew's defeat a little more bitter. The fact that Ellen is kind of a power-chaser and not really someone who loves a person for who they are helps elevate Claire's character and the relationship she has with Drew. The pair end up being the kind of underdog romance you root for.
The PG-13 rating is fitting for this one. Although profanity isn't pervasive, there are 2 featured "F" words and a third one in a song that plays during the movie (It isn't super noticeable, but I did pick up on it). There isn't much blasphemy, but there are a few exclamations of "Oh my G-d." Regarding faith, we do see a positive portrayal of characters joining hands and saying grace at dinner, but there otherwise isn't much spiritual representation in Elizabethtown. (Which is something that could counter the feelings Drew had that, because of his failure, he should end his life. Obviously, with faith in Christ, we believe our worth is found in Him - not in the things we do or don't do right.) Other than some language, there is some suggestive comments (like a joke about a man hugging a woman getting a "boner"), and we learn that Claire and Drew spent the night together when we see her leaving his room the next morning (and he's lying shirtless in bed asleep). For violence, there's the aforementioned topic of death and loss, but Drew talks about suicide a few times, and we see him strapping a large knife to an exercise bike early in the film while planning it out (Obviously, he doesn't go through with it).
Paramount Pictures brings Elizabethtown to their new Paramount Presents line (it's like their version of The Criterion Collection), in which they give the movie its long-awaited Blu-Ray debut. The transfer looks truly excellent in HD, and it's definitely one of the better transfers I've seen for a movie from the mid-2000's. If you're an Elizabethtown fan, you'll want to check out this release of it.
Overall, I was surprised how much more I liked Elizabethtown than the first time I saw it years ago. Aside from some of the content (like the unnecessary stronger language, and the fact Drew and Claire were quick to hop into bed together), it's a pretty sweet-natured film that celebrates what it means to be alive, with a memorable road trip finale that will make you want to grab a map (or perhaps a GPS) and head out on the open road to have a journey of self-discovery of your own.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/7/21)
Filmmaker Focus: Cameron Crowe on Elizabethtown (6:22) - This brand new featurette shows director Cameron Crowe sitting and talking to the camera, reflecting on Elizabethtown. He talks about how the story was inspired by his father, and then looks back on the casting and how Jack Lemmon would have been perfect in the role of Drew, and feels as though Orlando captured that. Crowe specifies that the story is about finding love and humanity in the midst of failure.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (23:49) - There is a batch of deleted or extended scenes with a brand new intro from Crowe. The intro looks to have been recorded at the same time as the Filmmaker Focus, and in it he talks about debuting a rough cut of the film at the Toronto film festival. He explains how its reception there got the film trimmed down and these deleted scenes were bits he hated to cut out, but understood they needed to go. After watching them, though, I don't feel like there's much added here. The "Alternate Ending" is interesting, but it takes a little away from the weight of Drew's failure and his new outlook on life. "The Shoes They Wear" briefly showcases people talking about the various shoes they wear (this one really doesn't fit in the movie). "A Student of Phil" (feat. 1 "S" word from Baldwin, as heard in the regular cut), feels like the same exact edit that's in the finished film. I'm not sure if a line or two were added here, but it seemed the same to me. "Chuck Moves Back the Reception" is a fun little scene where Chuck decides to moves his wedding reception time to allow for the Drew's father's memorial to take place in the same banquet hall. "Rusty’s Learning to Listen Part 8" is the full-length, unedited kids video featured in the movie. It's slightly longer and offers more explosions. "Chuck and Cindy are Less than Pleased" is the payoff from the fact that Chuck moved the wedding reception for the memorial. The married couple burst in as the sprinklers are soaking the banquet hall and shove Drew to the ground, telling him he ruined their wedding. Frankly, I'm really glad this was cut. "It's Only a Funeral" features Drew's mom at the funeral in the cemetery telling Drew to "Cheer up, it's only a funeral." (It's another smart moment to have cut out.) "Hanging with Russell in Memphis" is just a run of B-roll and behind-the-scenes footage of Russ talking to Drew in his blues bar, telling real-life stories of crazy things that happened in his bar over the years. Finally, the "Alternate Ending" seems to drop Claire and Drew's reunion at the end, and reveal that Claire started making his "road map" the night they chatted all through the night on the phone. We also see Drew discover that his failed shoe has become a grassroots phenomenon in just a couple days, with people modifying the wing at the bottom of the shoe to cause it to whistle while walking. Overall, I think all of these were pretty smart cuts from the film.
On the Road to Elizabethtown (13:49) is an original featurette from the DVD. In it, Crowe tells of how his father was from Kentucky and he spent three days there to soak in the atmosphere. As a result, he wrote the story pretty quickly during his stay. The featurette then covers the characters, casting Bloom, Dunst and Sarandon, and how it was all shot on location in Kentucky. Crowe talks more about the theme of the story and how the movie starts with death and ends with life. He adds that, by the end, Drew is overwhelmed with reasons for living, making the movie a celebration of life.
The Music of Elizabethtown (5:32) - In this DVD featurette, Crowe talks about how the movie is stuffed with diverse music and how important the music is to the story.
"Meet the Crew" Featurette (2:35) This shows some behind-the-scenes footage that rolls through the different film crew members.
"Training Wheels" Featurette (2:21) is a short collection of screen tests for the cast. It briefly shows some of the individual tests, as well as some of the family in a group in a warehouse.
Finally, the features are wrapped up with a Photo Gallery by Neal Preston, which shows behind-the-scenes photos and film stills featuring separate characters and locations (all in low resolution, DVD quality) and a series of Trailers and TV Spots.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/23/21)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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