The DVD release of the latest Cameron Crowe film “Elizabethtown” has quietly come and gone. The movie itself was forced to withstand undue criticism and disappointing box office, and unfortunately this less than impressive DVD version certainly will not help the cause. There are no great omitted scenes or special features to speak of, only the film and the promise of a Directors Cut that may never happen without an enthusiastic response from DVD sales and rentals. So, I have to ask all of you out there in movieland to consider giving “Elizabethtown” a shot, as there is still hope. The film is marvelous and the soundtrack is vintage Crowe, so fabulous and extensive that it can’t fit on just one disc. I need the rest of this movie and so will you when you fall in love with the fantasy and optimism we expect in pop music and adore about the exceptional work of Cameron Crowe. Allow me to plead my case.
Crowe has proven himself as a music journalist, screenwriter, brilliant filmmaker and inventor of some of motion pictures’ most memorable characters. Few directors have Crowe’s track record of exceptional films and even fewer can boast such a varied body of work. While “Elizabethtown” may not be his best work to date, it is a worthy addition to Crowe’s remarkable tapestry of masterworks. “Elizabethtown” is funny, genuine and moving and only bolsters Crowe’s place atop the list of great American filmmakers.
Crowe is expertly skilled in the art of extracting the most cinematic qualities from human beings. In his hands, anyone can be a movie star. Your next door neighbor may become the foil to the embarrassing but endearing moment in the second act, or the 18 year-old kid behind the one-hour-photo desk at Target suddenly becomes fascinating and a classic character whose two onscreen lines are repeated perpetually by film addicts everywhere, were they written by Crowe.
I love the way his movies make me feel– that in the mundane can be found spectacular moments of true uniqueness, that inside the darkest of human rights of passage can come beauty and truth in spades. Crowe’s ability to weave hope and fantasy into his well-crafted stories is rare and once again on display in “Elizabethtown”. Like the unforgettable Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in “Almost Famous,” Kirsten Dunst’s flight attendant who also happens to be a road trip savant. “Claire” is the latest in the series of characters that punctuate and give such life to Crowe’s work. Dunst’s stellar performance was the surprise of the film for me. She has never been better and her girl-next-door beauty allows her to portray a fantasy woman who isn’t alien, but rather you leave the theater hoping she’s real.
While star Orlando Bloom has yet to prove himself with heavy dialogue his understated Drew was fantastic. “Elizabethtown” is a charming insight into the massive experience of burying a loved one and with them the relationship you waited too long to have. Bloom’s best work comes in the last act of the film, during a road trip scene devoid of dialogue and set to a perfect soundtrack, were Drew finally lets go. With roles like this one, he may become a heavy hitter yet.
“Elizabethtown” is hilarious in spite of its main characters’ meditative melancholy. Crowe is famous for writing some of modern film’s most memorable and iconic scenes. John Cusack holding the boom box over his head in “Say Anything,” the “Tiny Dancer” scene in “Almost Famous” and even my least favorite of Crowe’s works, “Jerry McGuire’s” “..show me the money!” are all brilliant fodder for future Oscar highlight reels. “Elizabethtown” is not shy on iconic moments. Most notably is Susan Sarandon’s tap-dancing tribute to her deceased husband, which closely resembles Kate Hudson’s dance in an empty auditorium from “Almost Famous.”
As he did with “Almost Famous” (the director’s cut was titled “Untitled”), Crowe originally planned to release a director’s cut of “Elizabethtown.” A re-edit may smooth out some of the theatrical release’s jerky moves. My one major complaint with “Elizabethtown” is the sense that there is more movie than I’m seeing here. Most moviegoers want their films quick and to the point. Sometimes I do as well. In the case of Crowe, however, I can handle an extra hour anytime. I want to see everything he’s got– I would even pony up cash for the raw footage on any of my favorites. If Crowe released yet another version of “Almost Famous” with even just a little more stuff, I would barrel recklessly through traffic and reason to the nearest DVD shop to buy my copy, only to sprint home and watch in pure ecstasy what ever bonus scraps and blah, blah he threw out. I suppose that sums up my extreme bias, but it’s good to love things. It’s good to love things too much. Sure it’s disappointing, but why else do we make art? Insert all available idioms about love, life and happiness here and then promptly gag yourself by forcefully placing your fake pistol fingers as far down your throat as possible. Which hand you use is entirely up to you.
“Elizabethtown” is everything we have come to expect from Cameron Crowe. Elevated storytelling, rich singular characters and inspired cinematography. Most of all, we are left with hope and the unshakable sense that if Crowe were to give you a mix tape to use as the soundtrack to your life, you could believe that something spectacular could happen at any moment.