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ELIZABETHTOWN (director/writer: Cameron Crowe; cinematographer: John Toll; editor: David Moritz; music: Nancy Wilson; cast: Orlando Bloom (Drew Baylor), Kirsten Dunst (Claire Colburn), Susan Sarandon (Hollie Baylor), Alec Baldwin (Phil), Bruce McGill (Bill Banyon), Judy Greer (Heather Baylor), Jessica Biel (Ellen), Paul Schneider (Jessie), Loudon Wainwright III (Dale), Gailard Sartain (Charles Dean), Paula Deen (Aunt Dora), Maxwell and Reid Steen (Samson); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner/Cameron Crowe; Paramount Pictures; 2005)
“Sets an affable mood but is saddled with a slight and pointless story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A corny feel-good love story with some wonderful characterizations that sets an affable mood but is saddled with a slight and pointless story, is the latest from promising writer-director Cameron Crowe (“Say Anything”/”Almost Famous”/ “Singles”/”Vanilla Sky”/”Jerry McGuire”). Crowe is the former writer for Rolling Stone turned director, who hit it big with “Jerry McGuire” but has since disappointed with films that were only at best passable.

A bland everyman type named Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a rising young sneaker-designer at a Nike-like company in Oregon, who created a new sneaker called the Spasmotica that is recalled costing his Mercury company a loss of close to a billion dollars. The firm’s egotistical New Age head, named Phil (Alec Baldwin), calls Drew into his sumptuous office to offer his last words before firing him. After a discomforting talk tells the depressed and humbled Drew “We could have saved the planet,” and the forlorn lad says his goodbye to the company, his rich lifestyle and his beautiful company girlfriend Ellen (Jessica Biel), and wrestles with the difference between “failure” and “fiasco.” At home he plans his suicide on an exercise bicycle he rigs a razor-sharp stainless-steel chef’s knife to, but answers his cell phone in the middle of the awkward attempt and learns from his sister Heather (Judy Greer) that his father Mitch died while visiting his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to see his relatives. Drew’s nervous mother Hollie (Susan Sarandon) is too spaced-out to travel from California, so Drew is designated to go to Elizabethtown, a place he never visited, and have the body cremated. He boards a night flight to Louisville and a chatty flight attendant named Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) shows an interest in someone who could be her only passenger, and gives him directions home and her cell phone number.

At home Drew meets his noisy relations, who only know of him as a success because the news hasn’t hit home yet of his failure. The relatives include his cousin, the nontraditional Jessie (Paul Schneider), his mischievous undisciplined son Samson, and Jessie’s earnest and very traditional dad Dale (Loudon Wainwright III). Others include the family-minded Aunt Dora (Paula Deen) who takes him into her bedroom filled with many family photographs and wheeler dealer cousin Bill (Bruce McGill), whom Hollie has never forgiven over a sour business deal with Mitch in the past. While Drew stays there a week he learns to come to terms with himself, his extended family, the father he hardly knew, the hometown he never knew, and that things are over with dream girl Ellen. The kooky and compulsive organizer Claire begins a guarded innocent relationship with the passive Drew, that challenges him to get over thinking of himself as a loser and through her high energy gives him a renewed zest for living. Sentimentality, mush and rock ‘n’ roll songs are in abundance.

Suddenly mom gets over her fears of facing the family and treks to Elizabethtown to do a tap dance for them at a memorial service honoring her husband’s memory. Before the national business magazine comes out with the story on Drew’s debacle, he journeys with his father’s ashes by car back to California on a route carefully worked out by Claire so he can connect with the dad he never knew in this very special way. He throws the ashes out at various designated shrines along the way, listens to the CDs she carefully chose for him, has a running conversation with the urn and meets the always optimistic Claire on the cute in the second largest farmer’s market in the world.

The film’s simple solutions to everything seems to be: if you lose something then get something else as a replacement. Therefore losing a great job calls for getting a great new girlfriend; the loss of a father can mean gaining a rural extended family; the loss of hubby can mean learning to cook or laugh or tap dance. Hardly themes to get too excited about but, then again, the film is not a complete bust. There were moments spent with the characters in Elizabethtown that felt just right and not as misplaced as the sugary romance or dripping with the overly sentimental way to deal with loss the film suggests as necessary.

REVIEWED ON 10/17/2005 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”