by Luke Baumgarten & r & Elizabethtown & r & You know those motivational posters you see in offices? The ones with photos of pastoral scenes that pepper cubicle-dwellers with big, obscure ideas like: "It is not strength but ambition that drives us" and "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars." I think Cameron Crowe was reading a lot of those as he wrote Elizabethtown. Then, as he got set to direct the film, he internalized the sayings into a personal religion. The result is a big, rambling idea movie about big, diffuse ideas.
His latest film centers on Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), the biggest idea man in a shoe company full of idea men. There's a tremendous flaw in a shoe design he spearheaded (which was meant to become the company's flagship). So he gets fired. Then his dad dies. Cue the soul searching. See, Baylor's got ideas, and proves it by drawing (in his mind) grave and lucid conclusions about single words, like he was working in a linguistics factory. Rather than crying at his dad's coffin, Drew spends a full minute trying to give the dead man's expression a name. He comes up with "whimsical," then skips off, self-satisfied. Earlier, he concludes the reason he's been fired is that corporate culture wants success, not greatness.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a thesis. Elizabethtown is about stumbling toward greatness. In order to find it, Crowe needs the proper context. In the corporate context, greatness just means "make the company more money." Crowe has a better definition, and he wants to demonstrate it for us.
Problem is, Baylor displays none of the attributes Crowe is looking for. Cue that whirling dervish of randomness, Kirsten Dunst. Clair Colburn (Dunst) is pretty obviously the foil who's meant to spark greatness in Drew. While Dunst is charming as hell, all she really does is drag Baylor on a tour of the death sites of all Crowe's favorite musicians. By the time Elizabethtown turns into a road film (much too late), it's clear Crowe is concerned primarily with the masturbatory glee of proving he knows where Jeff Buckley died. The result is a thematic mess, while greatness remains something big and diffuse that you can't put your finger on, except to guess it involves knee-jerk spontaneity, taking road trips and talking all night on your cell phone to a stranger.
Though I will agree that greatness somehow involves Jeff Buckley.
To work, Elizabethtown needed to create the context necessary to illuminate Crowe's vision, slowly explaining exactly what all his big ideas mean. It doesn't. Without context, words like success and greatness are just strings of symbols lacking even the most rudimentary meaning. Give Crowe credit, however, for aspiring toward greatness, which has something to do with fighting to make exactly the movie he wanted to make. It's a shame that he also made exactly the kind of movie no one wants to see.