It's not cool to like Cameron Crowe's movies: Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky, Almost Famous, Say Anything. And his latest is no exception—if anything, liking Elizabethtown is even less cool than liking Crowe's previous films. Yes, Elizabethtown is a totally uncool picture, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to get ridiculed for liking it. But from the retro Paramount logo that opens the film to the bevy of unapologetic montages set to ebullient pop music, I thoroughly enjoyed Crowe's latest. I guess I'm a sucker like that.
Elizabethtown encompasses all of Crowe's usual themes: self-discovery, family, love, and music. Here we have mopey, doe-eyed Drew Baylor (an astonishingly well-groomed Orlando Bloom), who, after failing phenomenally at his high-profile job at a Nike-ish shoe company, gets cruelly fired by his boss (Alec Baldwin). After heading home to kill himself, he's interrupted by a phone call from his sister and mother (Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon) informing him of more cheery news... his dad's died, and it's up to Drew to go back to his father's tiny hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to retrieve the body. Enter the exceedingly annoying and perky Claire (the exceedingly annoying and perky Kirsten Dunst), a flight attendant who immediately takes a liking to Drew, whether he likes it or not, and cue the soundtrack-enabling emo events: Drew's awkward/heartwarming reunion with his extended family, Drew and Claire's budding romance, Drew's very Jerry Maguire-ish awakening, and long sequences that exist for no other reason than to celebrate Crowe's encyclopedic knowledge of, and boundless love for, pop music and rock 'n' roll Americana. Together, all of Elizabethtown's style and vibe has just enough weight to justify the film's plot, but none beyond that; you have to respect a guy who can include both suicide and death as major plot points yet make both come across as moments of mere inconsequential whimsy.
And it's incomplete inconsequential whimsy. All of Elizabethtown feels like a piece of something larger—however few, there are hints of something meatier, something that would, perhaps, transcend the pretty images and slick soundtrack and make a stab at a deeper, less fleeting emotional resonance. (There's probably reason for this: After showing a longer cut around at various festivals to decidedly mixed responses, Crowe's done no small amount of cutting on the picture.)
And yet I liked it. Yeah, Elizabethtown is clumsy, and indulgent, and populist, and relentlessly, obliviously sentimental—but it's all done with such heart and good intentions that you'd have to be kind of a dick to talk shit about it. If you're willing to go into Elizabethtown as you would with any other Crowe picture, you'll likely find just what you'd expect—a fairly involving, sweet picture with good pop music, some competent melodrama, a few pretty shots, and a bittersweet tone that's uniquely and wholeheartedly Crowe's. (That said, there are a few groan-worthy sequences here that'll challenge even the most open-minded: Beware Sarandon's climactic monologue/dance number.)
Maybe that's why I like Crowe's films so much, despite my better judgment: There's a genuineness beneath them, the distinct feeling that Crowe just wants to make his movies, and make them as heartfelt as he can. I sure as hell wouldn't want every movie to be a Crowe picture, but every couple of years, it's nice to be able to kick back for an uncool, unironic, completely modernist time—even if that just makes me a dork who's a sucker for earnest coming-of-age stories with good soundtracks. Ah, well. There are worse things to be.