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Crowe and Bloom create a story of lost and found
Loves: Cameron Crow
Likes: Orlando Bloom
Dislikes: Big families, Kirsten Dunst
Hates: The South
Let's face it...no matter what Cameron Crowe made as a follow-up to his astounding autobiographical Almost Famous, it was going to pale in comparison. Such is the downside of creating a work of genius. So when Vanilla Sky arrived, a mind-twisting remake unlike anything else he's done, the reaction to it was to be expected. Smartly, Crowe retreated to familiar ground with his next flick, to tell the story of Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a man who has lost everything, and the family he found.
Drew suffered a monumental failure at work, beyond any you could imagine, and doesn't have the finest personal life, but that's just the start of his bad day, as he finds out his father died on the other side of the country in Kentucky. So with his mother (Susan Sarandon) and sister (Judy Greer) breaking down and handling details in Oregon, he heads to his father's roots in Elizabethtown to pick up the body. His mother would have, but she's not too popular there with the family he's about to meet.
Since this is a film about a small Southern town, the family is naturally filled with those unique misfit characters that inhabit such cinematic areas, including the overly warm aunts, the not-so-cultured cousins and the tradition-loving uncles who view city slickers with curiosity and contempt. A good chunk of the film shows how Drew relates to his relations, but that's only part of the story, and the funniest part at that, with the exception of a throw-away scene with the always funny Jed Rees at his hotel.
The rest of the tale centers around an uber-perky airline stewardess named Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who takes an unusual interest in Drew during a red-eye flight. Claire is the kind of person most folks will actively attempt to avoid, but Drew finds himself unable to, perhaps due to the sad situation he's in. Her good cheer and lust for life is the perfect antidote for Drew, helping open his eyes to a life he's been missing thanks to his busy life at work.
In a film dominated by talking, there's a rather lengthy scene of phone dialogue between Drew and Claire that really shouldn't work, but surprisingly does, mainly because Crowe avoids the temptation to give in to movie convention. Sure, it plays it cute in spots, but it does get where it needs to go. Unfortunately, it also pulled me out of the film a bit, as I couldn't help but wonder what kind of super-battery Drew has in his ever-present cell phone. If that's the worst thing that happens, a movie must be in pretty good shape.
It's not though, as the film is exceedingly long, and could have been trimmed down in spots, as some scenes do very little to progress the plot, and exist mainly to deliver more Crowe dialogue. As a huge fan of Crowe dialogue, normally that would be a good thing, but when those words spill forth from the mouth of Dunst, they just don't mean as much. Bloom and Greer, and even Paula Deen, do very well with Crowe's voice, but Dunst just doesn't sound right speaking his words while acting so "cute," thus coming up short where Kate Hudson succeeded in Almost Famous.
While trimming throughout the film would have been smart, lopping off the end of the film might have been seen as an act of mercy. After sticking with Drew through his travails, Crowe offers up a film within a film, one that is pure Crowe and as expertly manipulative as anything he's done, following the young man as he returns home. After all that's passed before, including a calamitous and satisfying culmination of most of the storylines at a memorial service for Drew's father, the trip feels anti-climactic and separate from the rest of the movie. It's not that it's not "good," it's just a bit too much.
Packed in a standard keepcase, the film comes without an insert, whether you go widescreen or full-frame. The disc itself is very Crowe, featuring an animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu, with animated transitions, that just fits the director. Options include play, set up, special features and scene selection, while the language choices included English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 and French 5.1, along with English and Spanish subtitles, as well as closed captioning. The scene-selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter.
The anamorphic widescreen video on this DVD is rock solid, from the colors to the level of detail and the clarity of the image. There's nothing to really quibble about here, a fact made clear in the good-looking memorial scene. For some scenes, some interesting color palettes were chosen, but the DVD does well with them, staying clear of any dirt or damage also.
The audio, presented in a crisp Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, is subtle, yet appropriate, with some nicely reproduced surround effects and strong source music, as one would expect from Crowe. Check out when Dunst talks on the microphone at the hotel for a good example of what this disc does well.
Elizabethtown was a flop at the box office, earning back less than half its budget, and the DVD seems to reflect that financial failure, with a paucity of extras for a Cameron Crowe film. To start with, there's no commentary track from the writer/director, who had provided excellent tracks on his last three films. It's a serious loss, and one that points to a complete lack of involvement on his part with this DVD.
The first extra doesn't help get things off to a great start, as the two-minute "Training Wheels" featurette is only a few scant clips of wordless rehearsal footage with some music. It's followed by "Meet the Crew," another (mostly) wordless montage, this time looking at the many people working on the set for two and a half minutes. So far, this disc is thoroughly unimpressive.
Two extended scenes, totaling 11 minutes in all, are the most exhaustive video extras to be found on this DVD. The first, "Rusty's Learning to Listen, Part 8," is the uninterrupted video shown to the kids in the movie. Its inclusion, when compared to what isn't here, is baffling.
Joining Rusty on the DVD is Russ, a barkeeper who tells Drew about the music history in Memphis for much longer than he does in the movie. The extended scene is intercut with on-set footage, making it one of the more informative extras here.
The scenes are followed by an extensive set of photo galleries, 10 in all, shot by Neal Preston, the still photographer for several of Crowe's movies. Anyone who appreciates good photography should like these snapshots of the production. The disc then wraps with a pair of theatrical trailers for the film that are dramatically different in tone, and some previews for other Paramount product. And that's it. Disappointing, it certainly is. They could have at least slapped Deen's Food Network special onto the disc.
The Bottom Line
As a film, Elizabethtown is too uneven to stand among Crowe's better work, but it's too smart and heartfelt to dismiss entirely. Instead, it can be viewed as a film that tried to do too much and fell a bit short because of that effort. Though the DVD looks and sounds solid, the extras, or the lack of them, are bound to leave Crowe fans cold. You're going to have to be a serious die-hard to need to own this movie, as a rental of this disc should satisfy your needs. Better yet, make it a two-fer night and pick up the bootleg edition of Almost Famous as well.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.
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