Going in to "Elizabethtown", I knew nothing more than the basics of the plot. Orlando Bloom's Drew was a miserable failure and in the midst of his wallowing in self-despair when his father dies, and he has to travel from the civilized Oregon to Hicksville (a.k.a. Elizabethtown) Kentucky to retrieve the body. Hilarity ensues as the uncultured rednecks become shocked and chagrined at the big-city life and Drew becomes appalled by his uncouth relations.
Going in, I should have known to expect more from the mind that brought the world "Almost Famous." What begins as a simple fish out of water tale becomes a character study that tracks the growth of a boy into a man who learns to shoulder responsibility and says his final goodbyes to a man he never really knew but still loved with all his heart. In between, he discovers what it is like to truly feel.
The core story is exactly how I've described it above. What makes "Elizabethtown" special is the character arcs that populate the narrative. Each character in the film comes to terms with the loss of a great man in different ways because they are very different people. Drew's mother (Susan Sarandon) goes into kinetic denial; she keeps moving in order to fill the void created by the loss of her husband. As she comes to learn what her husband meant to her, she simultaneously learns what he meant to others, enriching everyone's experience.
There had always been a rift between Drew's immediate family and his Southern relations that Drew was not prepared to deal with. Because the characters that populate the family (and close-knit community of Elizabethtown) are so warm, round, and human, Drew is forced to reevaluate the perceptions he had of his relatives. It is yet another step in the growth of Drew from a sheltered prodigy (who never took the time to experience life) to a good (in the Greek sense) man.
Furthermore, the population of Elizabethtown learns from Drew. His free-spirited cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bloom in some scenes) has a life that has gone in an unexpected direction after his band broke up a decade earlier. He's got an out-of-control son that he doesn't want to discipline because he doesn't want to continue the cycle of distance between fathers and sons. The scene where Drew helps Jessie deal with his crazy child is one of the funnier moments in the film.
Obviously, the film features a compressed timeline due to the constraints of the medium. As a result, some viewers may scoff at the seemingly coincidental and fortuitous events that occur rapidly. To my mind--having experienced a rollercoaster couple of days that featured family deaths, job setbacks, and relationship problems only to see it all work out for the best--suspending disbelief wasn't that difficult.
The only other major strike that could be called against the film is its organization; this certainly isn't a boy-meets-girl story. Instead, as in life, there are a host of things going on at once that all need Drew's attention. It's funny that I've gone all this way without talking about the romance that this movie is being sold on. To be fair, I don't know that it should be the premiere aspect of the movie because those looking for a traditional romance may be disappointed. That's not to say Drew and Claire (Kirsten Dunst) don't have chemistry; they have plenty--it's just that Drew's journey (both physical and metaphoric) is the center of the film. There is a lot going on, but by the movie's end, everything comes full circle and most everything is resolved as much as it ever can be in life.
The romance between Drew and Claire is really fascinating because it is quite non-traditional. Claire is the aggressor (to the point where it almost seems stalkerish) as she serves as flight attendant during Drew's flight to Elizabethtown. At that point in his life, he's interested only in getting his father and returning home to commit suicide. Claire is not deterred by his demeanor and presses through the wall he has erected around his psyche and becomes the one person he can talk to about everything that has gone on in his life. The two have a great dynamic that is more than just puppy dog love; there is a real connection between the two that allowed me (a hopeless romantic) connect with them.
After all was said and done, I was by-and-large satisfied with the story. There are stumbles, to be sure, like Susan Sarandon's tap number and an unresolved bit regarding a con man from Elizabethtown, but the majority of the film is original and fresh. I was never bored with the narrative, and since it routinely went in unexpected directions, I was drawn along with Drew on his voyage of discovery. There is so much that goes on in this film that it would be a disservice for me to attempt to describe it all; suffice it to say that even seemingly pointless (at the time) moments come back in the end (Chuck and Cindy, et al) that round out one of the most touching, romantic/comedic/tragic...and ultimately real films I've seen since "Almost Famous."
The anamorphic 2.35:1 video transfer is about as good as I could imagine. I didn't notice a single blemish or speck, compression isn't an issue, and since most of the film is well-lit, there isn't a bit of black crush. It's not HD, but it is pretty close.
I failed to mention it in the review, but one of the reasons this film works so completely is the score by Nancy Wilson and the obscure rock B-sides that director Cameron Crowe put into the film. The music, as much as the dialogue (which is wonderful in its own right) makes this film work; they are as timeless as the story they enhance. Both myself and the woman I watched this film with agree that we want a copy of the soundtrack; it is that good.
That having been said, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is wonderful. The music fills every channel and the bass is resonant during music cues but silent otherwise. Other sound cues, like the clamor of the crowds in Elizabethtown, the cicadas buzzing and Jessie's boy screaming at the top of his lungs are as immersive as anything I've ever heard. I felt as though I were right in the crowd instead of a passive observer. The surround track is marvelous.
The DVD opens up with forced trailers for the new "Ferris Bueller" DVD, the television program "Charmed," "Yours, Mine, and Ours," and "Aeon Flux."
"Training Wheels" is a behind the scenes featurette that starts with casting and rehearsals, set to music. It runs about two minutes and doesn't say much.
"Meet the Crew" is a set of brief clips that introduce members of the crew, though we don't get to hear anything (again) about the making of the film.
There are some extended scenes, including more of "Rusty's Learning to Listen" (which I referenced above as the funniest scene in the movie) and Drew's interactions with Russel in Memphis, the owner of a bar that has met every Blues legend there is to meet. It is a combination of behind the scenes and extended scenes and is the most substantive piece on the extras.
There is a photo gallery and a pair of theatrical trailers present as well.
When I first saw the trailers for "Elizabethtown" a few months ago, I thought it was going to be a simple romantic comedy that tried to be hip in the vein of "Garden State," featuring two box office heavies. What I found was a touching, complicated film that reflects reality as much as Hollywood can.