Orlando Bloom as Drew Baylor
Kirsten Dunst as Claire Colburn
Susan Sarandon as Hollie Baylor
Alec Baldwin as Phil DeVoss
Bruce McGill as Bill Banyon
Judy Greer as Heather Baylor
Jessica Biel as Ellen Kishmore
Paul Schneider as Jessie Baylor
Loudon Wainwright III as Uncle Dale
Gailard Sartain as Charles Dean
Jed Rees as Chuck Hasboro
Paula Deen as Aunt Dora
Dan Biggers as Uncle Roy
Alice Marie Crowe as Aunt Lena
Tim Devitt as Mitch Baylor
Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a rising young star in the shoe business, but when his first big project tanks – and nearly takes the company with it – he spirals into depression with the realization that his life, and it’s slightly skewed focus on shoes, just might have been a complete waste. On the verge of killing himself with an ingenious exercise bike-cum-death machine, he learns that is father (Tim Devitt) has died and he must return to the family home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky to put his affairs in order.
It’s more the fashion today for interpersonal dramas to go for bathos and high-stakes emotional conflict as characters cry out their darkest secrets and fears to each other, and often as not look on their characters with contempt; but director Cameron Crowe (“Say Anything,” “Almost Famous”) – like his mentor, James L. Brooks – has often taken a different tack, choosing instead to focus on the better aspects of human nature, even in the midst of tragedy, and what it is that is good about people and brings them together. His one try at doing something other than that, 2001’s “Vanilla Sky,” was a horrible mess the less said about the better. “Elizabethtown” is a glorious return to Crowe at his best, and a wonderfully human and entertaining piece of drama.
Oh yeah, and it’s really funny, too.
“Elizabethtown” takes great joy from its supporting characters, and even if the Bloom didn’t work, they would make the film worth seeing. As perfectly drawn as they are – some of them only appearing in one scene – none of them overpower the film or take up too much time, but instead focus it more intently on Drew’s story by the way they interact with him. Alec Baldwin’s five minute turn as Drew’s boss is worth the price of admission alone. It’s funny and intelligent and warm and leaves an impression even though it lasts only five minutes. Paul Schneider as slightly clueless cousin Jesse is even better, adding just the right touch of lightness and warmth to scenes that could be too heavy. He exemplifies Crowe’s storytelling technique – his past isn’t gone into too much, and it doesn’t need to be. We’re told just enough to know exactly who he is, and he fits perfectly into Drew’s story.
And it is Drew’s story. The only time the movie really feels slow is when the focus shifts away from him, most notably during his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) funeral speech that goes on far, far too long. It’s not really about Mitch dying, it’s about Drew reacting to Mitch dying, and his fiasco, and his family he doesn’t really know, and everything else going on around him. We see the world through the prism of Drew. It’s not an easy task – with its mixture of bittersweet darkness and humor – but Bloom pulls it off. As bland as he has been in many of his other roles, he’s a breath of fresh air here, only stumbling occasionally.
Kirsten Dunst is solid as the flighty stewardess Claire, though the flightiness does occasionally go over the top. She does what’s needed, and she and Bloom have decent on-screen chemistry, but she doesn’t quite have the spark that many of the smaller roles bring. While she is very important to Drew’s healing process, she is only partly what the film is about and it does not lack with her absence.
The real star of the film, though, is Crowe’s warm humanity, the way it looks at the world around without judgment, focusing on the connections between people. It’s what Crowe does best, and after the debacle that was “Vanilla Sky,” it’s good to see him back doing good work again. It occasionally wanders off track, and it is occasionally a little too self-indulgent, but these are the most minor of flaws in a gem of a film.
“Elizabethtown” is a magnificent return to form for one of Hollywood’s finest observers of people, with a truly eye-opening performance from Orlando Bloom. Go see it.
“Elizabethtown” is rated PG-13 for language and some sexual references.