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Thursday, August 06, 2009

We watched ELIZABETHTOWN, mostly because we enjoyed re-watching ALMOST FAMOUS so much.

ELIZABETHTOWN is a weird movie. It's a romantic comedy, but it doesn't follow the traditional formula. For example, the guy doesn't lose the girl at the end of Act Two, and there is only the most perfunctory possible "run to the airport."

It's another movie with tremendous casting: Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, and a slew of lovely character actors in the minor roles. It's a movie with great observation of detail and lots of moving scenes.

It does not, fundamentally work, because the story has two broken elements. The romantic obstacle is unconvincing. And the jeopardy is unconvincing.

/* spoilers, probably */

In the movie, Orlando Bloom is a wunderkind shoe company whose brilliant shoe design has, for unnamed reasons, lost his company $972 billion dollars. His reaction to being fired is to go home and try to kill himself. He's saved by the death of his father, which requires a trip to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where his dad's people are.

On the way he meets perky, adorable stewardess Kirsten Dunst. They bond over the phone the night after the flight, and for the rest of the movie she chases after him. Repeatedly.

And he does not do much to shoo her away. The most he does is not say, "I love you, come back to Oregon with me."

So, first of all, neither Lisa nor I ever really felt that Orlando Bloom was going to kill himself, in spite of his setting up an exercycle to stab him to death. Part of this is Orlando Bloom: he just doesn't seem deep enough to kill himself. His range in this movie isn't much more than his range whilst playing Legolas: he goes from somewhat-smiley to frowny. But he never really loses it. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Cameron Crowe had wanted someone else for the role. It needs someone you can believe is on the verge of cracking.

It is also hard, fundamentally, to believe that a shoe designer would kill himself over a failed shoe. A man who's lost the company he built all his life might kill himself over losing his company. (Though he might well not.) But a designer who made a bad shoe? In real life he'd blame the marketing, or the product testing people, or the corporate decision not to roll it out slowly. Who kills themselves over a shoe?

Meanwhile, he's behaving in every way like a responsible son, taking care of his mother and sister, whom he obviously loves, and being considerate of his father's legacy, and kind to the people around him. None of which convinces me that he's planning on checking out soon -- an act which would devastate all the people he obviously has fondness for.

So the jeopardy was never working for me.

Unfortunately the jeopardy is also the obstacle. "I can't be with you, adorable Kirsten Dunst, because I plan to kill myself as soon as I get back to Oregon." Even though he is in the bosom of his dad's family, among Southerners who would be tickled pink that he wrecked some West Coast high-tech company to the tune of a billion dollars; even though a girl he obviously likes is repeatedly throwing herself at him. (I'd say "loves" but he never felt swept away by her. Oh well.)

With no jeopardy and no obstacle, the story never worked. All Bloom has to do in order to "win" is make the decision not to kill himself and accept the love that the utterly charming and loving and lovable Kirsten Dunst is pressing on him for all she's worth.

The performances kept me watching. The scenes were lovely and real. Kirsten Dunst is adorable. Susan Sarandon does a fine bit of standup comedy and tap dancing towards the end. There's as fine a performance of "Freebird" as you could ask for. Small town Kentucky comes through as a place where people care about each other in spite of each other's quirks; it almost seems like a place you might want to live. The cinematography is sweet. Production design, hair, makeup, all primo. I could have lived with a few fewer songs on the soundtrack, and they could have been less loud, but this is a Cameron Crowe movie, and he is a man who believes in the redeeming power of mix tapes.

But the story just did not work. Because two of the story elements were broken.



As a huge fan of Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, I really wanted to love this movie. The best thing I can say is that I didn't hate it. Okay, I actually mildly enjoyed it.

One problem I had is that everyone was trying too hard to be quirky and lovable, except Orlando's bloom's character who, because of it, came off a little boring and bland. Was it Orlando Bloom's fault? Possibly. I don't think he's a bad actor, just not a terribly good one. He's kind of like a blander Harrison Ford.

One problem I had is something that I started to see in Almost Famous. These Cameron Crowe `moments' that, in moderation is endearing, but when there's too much of it, it starts to grate. One such moment? When Kirstin Dunst pretended to take a picture. It just seems like he's trying too hard.

As for the structure, I agree. There were no real stakes and real obstacles. it was just a bunch of stuff happening. I don't mind this in some movies, but the stuff that was happening was not really interesting enough to make the movie, and the characters and dialogue weren't interesting enough, either.

By Blogger Tim W., at 1:00 AM  

Sorry, but I consider Cameron Crowe one of the most overrated directors working. I think the wide appeal of "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" speaks to an audience's willingness to be manipulated (present company excepted, of course). Maybe with "Elizabethtown" that's becoming more apparent.

By Blogger David, at 9:24 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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