The merciless critical response to Elizabethtown after its debut at the Toronto Film Festival is a wack kind of tribute to the talents of the film's writer-director, Cameron Crowe. His acclaimed work on Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous (his Oscar-winning script detailed his experiences as a teen reporter for this magazine) raised expectations for the new film, loosely based on the trip he took when his own father died in 1989. Orlando Bloom as the Crowe figure, Drew Baylor, the Oregon-based designer of a running shoe that fails miserably just as he gets the news that his dad has died during a visit to his birthplace in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. On a journey to claim the body, Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a flirty flight attendant who helps him out of his funk. He also gets a fuller understanding of his dad through the family he left behind, notably Paul Schneider as a rocker cousin whose idols are Abe Lincoln and Ronnie Van Zant. The reaction to the two-hour-and-nineteen-minute cut of Elizabethtown shown in Toronto as a work in progress ranged from "tone-deaf" to "interminable." Crowe responded (wrongly, I think) by cutting twenty minutes of mostly small things where his heart shines through. The film's problems lie with the lack of spark between a wired Dunst and a bland Bloom, and the meltdown of Drew's mother (Susan Sarandon), who grieves by tap-dancing. Near the end, Drew hits the road with his father's ashes and a mix tape from Claire that lets Crowe show how rock & roll can remind us of what makes life worth living. It's that energy, which comes and frustratingly goes, that makes Elizabethtown worth a visit. Almost.
From The Archives Issue 397: June 9, 1983