By Christy Lemire
The Associated Press

Friday, October 14, 2005 Posted: 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)

【(AP) -- From "Say Anything ..." to "Almost Famous," Cameron Crowe has

made his name with movies that strike just the right tone --

a bittersweet balance that's funny and melancholy, romantic and observant.

It's one that his late idol, Billy Wilder, perfected decades ago, and one

that's hard to achieve.】

Which is what makes "Elizabethtown" so curious, and such a disappointment.

In telling the story of a young man who returns to his small-town Kentucky

roots after his father's death, it's as if writer-director Crowe wanted to

make several different movies but couldn't decide between them, so he just

went ahead and made them all, then trimmed for time.

Characters say and do things that real people don't say and do, and they

frequently come up with poignant turns of phrase that are so perfectly

timed, they clang self-consciously -- especially Kirsten Dunst as the perky

flight attendant with whom Orlando Bloom's character strikes up an unexpected


Likable individually and refreshing as a couple, they do have some lovely

moments together, though. Crowe told Bloom, the British hottie from the

"Lord of the Rings" trilogy playing his first role as a Yank, to watch

the Wilder classic "The Apartment" repeatedly and study Jack Lemmon's

performance. While Bloom in no way comes close to achieving Lemmon's iconic

comic skill and everyman vulnerability, he proves himself a reliable

straightman, especially compared to Dunst, clearly functioning here as

the effervescent, optimistic Shirley MacLaine figure in the equation.

Bloom's Drew Baylor meets Dunst's Claire Colburn while flying as the lone

passenger on a red-eye from Portland, Oregon, to Louisville, Kentucky,

en route to Elizabethtown, where his father died suddenly during a visit

back home. Drew's mother (Susan Sarandon) and sister (Judy Greer) are

totally incapable of coping -- though they're so giggly and manic, you'd

never know that they'd just lost the family patriarch -- so they send Drew

to fetch his body and bring it back to be cremated.

Drew was seriously thinking of killing himself when he got the news.

A designer for a thinly veiled version of Nike -- complete with a boss

named Phil, played with cliched Zen-like self-control by Alec Baldwin

-- Drew just lost the company nearly a billion dollars with an athletic

shoe he spent eight years developing. ("I am ill-equipped in the

philosophies of failure," Phil informs him.)

So nothing is going right for Drew, and he's not exactly in the mood for

getting-to-know-you conversation with chatty Claire in the middle of the

night. ("Phils are dangerous," she chirps when Drew tells her his boss'

name. "Phils are less predictable than Bens.")

She eventually wears him down through the sheer force of her kindness,

though, and even draws him a map of where he needs to go once he lands,

including her phone numbers.

Surrounded by well-meaning but overbearing strangers in the mythically

idyllic Elizabethtown, most of them relatives he'd never met, Drew finds

himself reaching out to Claire with an all-night cell-phone call. They

talk easily and about everything -- this is one of those sections of the

movie that feels like a movie unto itself -- and when they agree many

hours later to get in their cars and meet halfway to watch the sunrise,

their face-to-face reunion is adorably awkward.

That they've made this intense connection isn't so unbelievable in itself;

it's how the relationship develops that becomes hard to fathom. She cancels

a free trip to Hawaii, for example, to spend more time with this person

she just met. She ingratiates herself with the wedding party going on at

the hotel where he's staying, just to be around for him.

And the most extreme example of all: Claire creates for Drew an elaborate

map for him to follow during his solitary road trip back home -- a trip

that was her idea in the first place. It's more like a scrapbook, really

-- an annotated guide with photographs and sticky notes and mix CDs full

of appropriate songs for every mile of the tour. The most painfully

obvious: U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" as Drew visits the National

Civil Rights Museum, built at the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was


It's a sweet idea -- just difficult to accept, even in a movie with romantic

inclinations. How could she possibly have found the time to be so Martha

Stewart-craftsy? And it's yet another segment that Crowe might have wanted

to develop into a film all its own.

As Drew tries to assure himself in the movie's opening voiceover, "A

failure is simply the non-presence of success. ... A fiasco is a disaster

of mythic proportions."

"Elizabethtown" falls closer to the former than the latter.

(Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may

not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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