‘Elizabethtown’ // Throwback Review: Cameron Crowe’s Dramedy on the Road to Nowhere

Back when I was in my senior year of high school, I had a notepad of all the movies from each year I have seen in the theater or already saw years later. Looking back at how I did in 2005, it was shocking to learn I had horrible taste in what I had to sit through, along with my parents. Although, there was one movie I noticed I didn’t jot down, and that was Elizabethtown, the romantic comedy from writer/director Cameron Crowe that was forgettable in a matter of time. This isn’t one people remember, but I feel it’s about time to check it out and see for myself. Sadly, there was no point in this being made. 

What’s the Story: Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a successful shoe designer who just recently made his company lose almost a billion dollars after its latest product flops. Before deciding to commit suicide over his failure, he gets a call from his sister Heather (Judy Greer) with the sad news that his father died during a family visit to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. While on his journey to meet all of his relatives and plan his funeral, he meets an eccentric and cute flight attendant named Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst). Along the way, Drew will discover what life is all about while finding a connection with Clarie.

Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown (2005)

Why did I decide to watch Elizabethtown 15 years later? Well, I’m a fan of Crowe’s previous work like Jerry Maguire (my favorite) and Almost Famous. With Vanilla Sky, I’m on that island of misfit toys that didn’t like it and thought it was confusing. I’ve watched the trailer recently and remember hearing some negative things about this 2005 romantic comedy and how it was a miss in his career. So, checking to see if it’s available to watch for free, I was lucky to be on Crackle where I can watch it in the comfort of my room. If I was an older person back in 2005 and saw this in the theater, I would’ve been disappointed if I had to pay to see this.

I need to start with Bloom’s performance as Drew because I now understand why he’s never the lead role in anything and how he’s not a good actor. It’s a shame to say that since he was awesome as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and as Will Turner in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but I just couldn’t get into this character at all. Very miscast, I must say. Also, whose decision was for him to have an American accent? Because it came off as distracting when we all know he’s British. There was nothing wrong with Dunst’s performance since I usually enjoy her presence in a movie, though I couldn’t see if I should like or hate her character throughout with the way she acts. 

But for a romantic comedy, the relationship between Bloom’s Drew and Dunst’s Claire was underwhelming. This is not one of those movies where it has a memorable meet-cute and instantly feel some sort of connection when they eventually fall in love. I personally didn’t buy their chemistry whenever they shared a scene with each other. There’s a long sequence where they’re talking on the phone for what felt like hours, and it delved into a montage, not knowing if they’re talking about the same subject.

Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown (2005)

Crowe’s screenplay is where the problem lies. Yes, when someone wins an Oscar for Screenplay means not everything after will be great. That’s true. But I couldn’t get a handle in caring about what’s going on throughout. Apparently, this was loosely based on his life when his father died. Part of it comes from the story itself, but I couldn’t get over some lines of dialogue, most of them coming from Bloom. It’s the kind of writing that appears unnatural to the point of knowing nobody ever says that. Plus, the voice-over isn’t helping anybody. Not a lot of people care about shoes, but Drew says, “A show is not just a shoe. It connects us to the earth.” What does that even mean? This is just one of those scripts where it was full of itself. I knew Tom Cruise was a producer years ago, and I tried to picture what the movie would be like if he was in the lead. It wouldn’t have work. Believe it or not, Ashton Kutcher was originally cast as Drew, but Crowe was smart enough to know that he didn’t feel the chemistry between him and Dunst. Trust me, having Kutcher not be in a movie is a major plus for everybody. 

Besides our two main stars, Susan Sarandon plays Drew’s grieving mother who’s on the stage of a mid-life crisis in doing all the things she can without killing herself, and Greer doesn’t get much to do instead of worrying and keeping her mom intact in Oregon. This also has Paul Schneider, which Parks and Recreation fans will recognize him as Mark Brendanawicz, as Drew’s cousin Jesse, Alec Baldwin as his boss for four minutes of screen time, Jessica Biel as his ex-girlfriend who thankfully isn’t in the movie that much, and surprisingly Paula Deen as Drew’s Aunt Dora. I think it took me three scenes to finally figure it was her since she was in the kitchen cooking. 

Even though I’ve never seen the movie before, I believe this was the movie that finally pointed to a common movie troupe entitled “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club was first to coin the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in his review of Elizabethtown, where some kind of female character is there in the story to make the male character live the free-spirited life he needs to experience, perfectly describing Dunst’s Clarie. The only time I can remember a character being that way was Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State. In this case with Dunst, I now feel there’s no way a character like this is too good to be true. Kind of think of it, both movies are a bit similar, but I definitely feel like Garden State is far superior, even if people start to hate on something excellent. 

Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown (2005)

Learning about what this was about, this should’ve been the kind of movie I can connect to about someone losing their father. Instead, it couldn’t find its footing in trying its hardest to be uplifting or charming. There’s not a lot that happens here, which makes for a boring time. And because of how unrealistic the relationship that blooms between Drew and Claire, how come that won’t happen to me, huh? Maybe I want to meet an awesome girl that looks like Margot Robbie or Anna Kendrick that can make me feel wonderful about life and myself. When this came out, this was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, and what was shown was a working process. So, who knows if he kept the 18 minutes in and made it better to some. If Crowe intended to make its viewers laugh, cry, or be moved, it didn’t succeed when I encountered none of those things while watching.

With everything that was holding the movie back from being amazing, there’s one element that I can honestly say is great: The soundtrack. Even if a Crowe movie isn’t the greatest out there, we can always rely on some good ‘ol classic rock to drive the plot along. From Fleetwood Mac to Elton John, this needed tunes to not keep this from completely derailing. There were several Tom Petty tracks, and I absolutely love me some Tom Petty, including “Learning to Fly.” Whenever someone tells me to think of a movie where the music was great while the movie itself was “meh,” this will be one of the few I’ll bring up. 

Compared to the work Crowe has previously done in his filmography, Elizabethtown is the second weakest movie behind Aloha. I can see why this was forgotten quickly, and nobody remembers this. I was hoping to be in the minority and thought it was good, but while it isn’t terrible, this didn’t have a chance of being good from the start. You don’t buy the chemistry between its lead stars when the script is dry and has nothing special to say about it. Anytime we drive to Nashville and see a sign saying Elizabethtown, that is when I’ll say, “Hey, it’s that town based on that lackluster Cameron Crowe movie.”

Grade: C-

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