Take a trip down to Crowe's Elizabethtown

by Beacon Staff • October 12, 2005

Elizabethtown follows Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a young marketing hotshot whose career has recently come crashing down around him after a shoe design he developed flops, causing his company to lose nearly a billion dollars.,"Few films are able to capture, at their very core, a slice of American living without being overbearing or sappy. Elizabethtown, the latest movie from writer/producer/director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) does just that.

Elizabethtown follows Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a young marketing hotshot whose career has recently come crashing down around him after a shoe design he developed flops, causing his company to lose nearly a billion dollars.

Literally on the verge of suicide, Drew receives a call informing him of his father's death. He is then sent as the family representative to Elizabethtown, Ky., his father's hometown, to retrieve the ashes and make the funeral arrangements.

On the way, Drew meets flirtatious flight attendant Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst), a charming, idiosyncratic Southern belle whom he befriends and turns to for support, escape and a romantic entanglement while in Kentucky.

Crowe's gift as a writer is enabling viewers to catch a glimpse of themselves in fictional characters, and this trait continues with Elizabethtown.

"I want the characters to be memorable," Crowe said in a recent phone interview with The Beacon. "You're able to laugh and cry when you really believe the characters ... There's nothing less emotional than seeing a character you don't know or care about getting emotional in a movie."

As the lead character, Bloom takes a break from swashbuckling and archery to star in what many expect could be his breakout role in Elizabethtown. Crowe said he was pleased with the casting decision.

"I just like him and I think he felt fresh in the part," Crowe said. "You look around and you see the guys who have sort of done a part like that and none of them, as great as some of those guys are as actors, none of them felt as fresh to me as Orlando playing the kind of stranger in the strange land."

Referring to Bloom's previous roles in films like Kingdom of Heaven, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Crowe added, "I like the challenge of bringing him into our current century for a role."

The British actor's accent was a concern for Crowe early on, but not a trace of it comes through in the film.

"My friends all kind of took me aside and said, 'You know, he is from the U.K. It is an American part," Crowe said. "And I had a long talk with Orlando about it, several of them, and he just said, 'Trust me, I am going to put in the work and I will come through for you.' And he did."

Although a relatively small town in Kentucky might seem to some as a strange setting for a major motion picture, Crowe said the decision was calculated.

"Let's celebrate a part of the country that doesn't get a lot of movies made about it," Crowe said.

The idea of Southern hospitality and regional laidback lifestyle is embodied, not exploited, through the quirky members of the Kentucky side of Drew's family, who clash with the West Coast mentality of Drew's mother, Hollie (Susan Sarandon). Paula Deen shines in the understated role of Aunt Dora, and Paul Schneider is equally endearing as Drew's deadbeat cousin, Jessie.

"People thought we were going to make a movie filled with stereotypes because that's all that happens," Crowe said. "[But] even though we're from California, we really do want to honor Kentucky."

It could be argued that the character of Drew is partially autobiographical, as Crowe's father was from Kentucky, married a woman from California and died on a trip to visit his family in his home state. Crowe dedicated Elizabethtown to his father at an early screening of the film in Toronto.

"It felt so much like a purpose to do the whole movie," Crowe said. "Orlando is playing a guy who is a stranger in a strange land, but the strange land is actually the epicenter of his family roots and that is what I felt like when I was back in Kentucky. That sensation of meeting people that look a little bit like you that know you really well, that are your family, so they are strangers but not really, was a real sensation that stuck with me."

As with many of Crowe's works, the emotional backbone of Elizabethtown comes from the film's soundtrack, which features selections from artists including Tom Petty, My Morning Jacket and Elton John -"acoustic, American soul," as Crowe describes. The songs are so deftly woven throughout the movie that music nearly becomes a character in itself.

"You start with the songs you love and hope you can honor them with a spot in the movie that does [them] justice," Crowe said. "You end up looking for the things that work best. A lot of the songs you fall in love with are better movies in your mind than you could provide them in actual films ... When it works it's the greatest feeling in the editing room. You just want to go and run around the block and say 'hooray!'"

With Elizabethtown, Crowe re-examines several ideas that are present in his other films. The basic plotline of Drew's professional downfall mirrors that of the title character in Jerry Maguire, and Crowe subtly mocks corporate America in both, particularly through scenes which emphasize the cubicle-laden office setup.

One workplace dynamic that is also explored is the tense relationship between Drew and his overbearing boss, played by Alec Baldwin. According to the director, a central element of the movie is the thin line between "failure and success in business."

Elizabethtown also follows the usual Crowe formula of the main character experiencing personal growth after a life-shattering moment.

"The point of the movie ... is greatness is more important than the immediate goal of success," Crowe said. "A guy who's trying to achieve greatness in his life was a tip of the hat to Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything ... It's hard to find greatness in life, and that was a theme I couldn't help but revisit."

Elizabethtown is more of a straightforward drama than any of Crowe's staple films, with the exception of Vanilla Sky. But, compared with the similar romantic stories in Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire, the minor comic relief provided is more often quirky than genuinely humorous.

"I wrote it more as an out and out comedy, a more whimsical comedy in a way," Crowe said. "This one just got more serious in a good way."

Elizabethtown is not flawless by any means, however, and probably will not live up to Crowe's other films in the minds and hearts of his fervent fans.

As a director, Crowe's greatest strength is subtlety, but Elizabethtown is slightly over the top. Grainy flashback scenes of Drew as a young boy playing with his father are a little overdone. The film also drags in parts, particularly during a symbolic road trip that brings Drew back to Oregon with his father's urn in the passenger seat.

Still, Crowe continues to succeed admirably in forging an emotional connection with the audience through the medium of film. Elizabethtown is one of those movies that sticks in

one's mind long after the credits have stopped rolling.

"I hope at some point all the movies that I've been able to do fit together as some kind of common portrait of what it was to be alive right now," Crowe said. "That would be a cool thing to leave behind."

With Elizabethtown, Crowe has filled in one more piece in the jigsaw puzzle of his long career.

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