Just as he did after Singles and Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe has taken four years downtime since trippy psycho-thriller Vanilla Sky. The good news? He’s been writing. Boy, has he been writing. The former Rolling Stone journo, it turns out, has inked approximately three different movies. And there’s some great stuff here, there really is. The bad news? He’s yammed them all into one staggering, bloated script.
Don’t get us wrong. Elizabethtown isn’t a fiasco. It’s not “a failure of mythic proportions”, as Bloom’s disgraced shoe-designer describes the disastrous trainer (the “Spasmodica”) that’s cost his company nearly $1 billion. In fact, the kick-off is classic Crowe, as Maguire stand-in Drew breezily invents a Heath Robinson-esque suicide machine (exercise bike, gaffer tape, kitchen knife) only to be interrupted by a phonecall informing him that his father has beaten him to the punch.
Cue a wheel-beating roadtrip to Elizabethtown and a raucous extended family, while his frazzled mother Hollie (Susan Sarandon) channels her grief through tap-dancing and Kirsten Dunst’s effervescent air stewardess pops up periodically to play love-interest and life mentor.
Only at the hour mark, after we’ve chuckled past a conveyor-belt of eccentric characters (Alec Baldwin’s maniacal CEO, Bruce McGill’s slimy grifter, Paul Schneider’s wannabe rocker and his mentalist kid), noted Crowe’s trademark movie mantras (“If it wasn’t this, it would be something else...”) and bobbed along to the kicky soundtrack (Tom Petty, Elton John, Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams), does it become apparent that the writer/director hasn’t the foggiest where he’s going with any of it. Romance, roadtrips, rock’n’roll, wedding crashers, family strife, existential angst, self-discovery... The subplots spiral off like party streamers: a pop, a whoosh, a flare, another dead end.
Of course, it helps not a jot that indie kid Zach Braff got here first with Garden State. And while that movie was almost generic in its idiosyncrasy, next to Elizabethtown Braff’s wide-eyed, inventive debut now looks like the movie Crowe should have made. “I think I’ve been asleep most of my life,” muses Bloom’s Drew at one point. Sure enough, appealing and sincere as he is, Bloom doesn’t need lithium to seem as numb and lost as Braff’s doleful drifter. As a double-act, he and Dunst are full of smirk and sparkle, but rarely touch the true, tender humour of Say Anything.
Not hard to see why Crowe’s had a nightmare in the editing room. Inspired by the death of his own father, the 48-year-old has just found it impossible to let anything go. Frankly, the whole thing needs pulling apart and putting back together – in separate pieces. Elizabethtown: The Bootleg Cut, anyone?
An over-stuffed jumble of twinkling dialogue, great songs and cute performances. Fingers crossed for a more measured Director's Cut on DVD.