Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe
Drew Baylor is a shoe designer for Mercury, a Nikesque company. His recent creation, the Spasmotica, is so awful that one reporter believes that it might make an entire generation go back to bare feet. It would be bad enough if this was the worst footwear since Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes, but it also has the unique distinction of possibly being the worst product ever made; it caused Mercury to lose almost a billion dollars. His boss, played wonderfully by Alec Baldwin, makes Drew give an interview to a business magazine, where he takes full responsibility. It will hit the newsstands in about a week.
Drew goes home and prepares to kill himself in a surprisingly funny scene, but is interrupted by the news that his father has died while on a visit to his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Drew is the eldest son, so he has to bring back his father’s ashes, which is going to be a difficult task because his family and friends want his body to be buried there with them. Adding to the awkwardness is the fact that this will be the first time Drew has been back to meet his Southern relatives.
On the plane there, Drew meets Claire, a flight attendant. At first, she’s cute and quirky, but quickly becomes awkwardly desperate as she pesters him throughout the flight and as she gives him her phone numbers and directions to Elizabethtown.
Drew is overwhelmed and all alone as he juggles the multiple conflicts. He has no one, so he turns to Claire. She helps him through the situations with solace and words of wisdom. She is hip and intelligent, coming across like a completely different person than the stalker at airport from hours earlier. They chat and hang out, but keep it platonic because they both know it’s going to be a temporary thing. He has his life and she has hers, including a boyfriend named Ben, who is a college professor. At least, that’s the plan.
Elizabethtown is filled with many wonderful touches that a film should have and that Crowe usually delivers. It has well-crafted scenes that the viewer is intrigued by; believable characters, even the minor ones like the rambunctious kid Samson and Chuck the groom-to-be; situations that pay off by generating laughter and sadness, such as the great memorial send-off for Mitch; interesting dialogue that induces thought, not many filmmakers could make a phone call stay so compelling for so long; and as always, a great selection of music that is sure to be a soundtrack people will want.
However, the ending spins wildly out of control. The last sequence is so bad, so unbelievable and so long that it nearly ruins the film. I won’t be surprised if that’s the sentiment the film generates and it will be difficult to argue against that. There’s an obvious ending to the story, but the heavy hand of a screenwriter can be felt showing off.
The individual parts of Elizabethtown can be enjoyed if you can forgive the last sequence, or better yet, if you leave when Drew heads home. I am going to detail the problem. If you don’t want to know the film’s conclusion, stop reading here.
After the funeral, Drew finally takes that road trip with his father by bringing his ashes with him. Claire gives Drew an extensively detailed map that is filled with notes, pictures, directions, suggestions and CDs that have all the perfect songs for exact moments along the way. The map and music are so detailed and specific that it is implausible to believe that Claire had enough time to put it together. Drew’s itinerary is filled with things like stopping at a bar and meeting a certain bartender with great stories, seeing where Martin Luther King, Jr. got shot, and relaxing on a bridge. After a couple of days, Claire tells Drew through a recorded message to stop and make a decision. He does, but it’s not clear why he didn’t make the same decision before he left town.
This section, while interesting road trip footage, seems like it’s from another movie. It comes across like Crowe showing off all the cool places and cool music he knows, but to what end? It goes on for too long and grinds the film to a halt. For such an accomplished writer to end the story in such an unbelievable way is utterly baffling. He should have cut out the last 15 minutes and still could have ended with the same result. It would have benefited the film a great deal.