(Images of America: Kentucky)
Kirsten Dunst has shown, in such parts as Marion Davies ("The Cat's Meow") and as Mary Jane Watson ("Spiderman" series) that she can be cute, angelic, and a poster girl for the all-American beauty. If it was writer-director Cameron Crowe's intention to elevate her adorability quotient with this movie, he succeeds to a degree that can only generate a glow in the hearts of men (and older boys). In this appearance she radiates devilish, sprightly mettle and a feisty, winsome personality that fills the screen.
The story actually revolves around Orlando Bloom, however, who, as Drew Baylor, a failed shoe designer, has just received his walking papers from corporate boss Phil DeVoss (Alec Baldwin). But, no sooner does Drew clear out his office and apartment and set himself up on his uniquely designed suicide device, than he gets a phone call. It's sis (Judy Greer) with the frantic news that their father Jesse (Paul Schneider) has died back in Elizabethtown and mom (Susan Sarandon) needs Drew now! Reluctantly, he steps off his machine and away from his intentions. Call it a case of suicidus interruptus.
Back with the family, mom is having some difficulty trying to decide what she wants done with her husband's body and, once she decides to have it cremated and not left in the soil where he lived his final years, sends the now between-jobs Drew back "home" to stick up for the surviving family's needs.
As strange and slyly funny as all this is, it bogs down due to Bloom's passivity, stretching almost beyond endurance until Claire Colburn (La Dunst) arrives in the form of a stewardess on his flight to Elizabethtown. She's friendly. She's more than friendly. She's downright in his face -- with questions, with advice, with route maps. Obviously lonely, but ready for mischief. And the handsome traveler has mischief written all over him. Unfortunately, he's too busy thinking about burial and cremation to get something like romance off the ground.
Circumstances have a way of bringing lovebirds together again, however, (what a surprise!) and something starts to develop. But, Drew maintains his passivity, and Claire's fronting it with plenty of face-saving couldn't-care-less attitude, even though everyone knows these two are made for each other. "Please don't take this as rejection," he says. "I really don't," she replies in her totally undependable way.
Meanwhile, the folks of Elizabethtown are acting as though their beloved hero has died, with paeons of adoration and homage to his memory. The prodigal son modestly accepts the adulation for dad, but stands up to the community in carrying out mom's wishes. And, Claire is there for him with her infectious support.
By the end of the first act I was convinced I was no fan of Crowe's elongated and indulgent style of storytelling. By the second act, I began to detect concern with the romance. By the last act, I was captive to and charmed into submission by Dunst. How's that for an all-American girl with a round, marble-white face of ineluctable radiance?
As for Bloom, that spirited archer on the parapets of Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings cycle), he's a more grounded heart-throb in this outing. Sarandon, too, is looking exceptional.
An outstanding soundtrack features Elton John's "My Father's Gun" from his "Tumbleweed Connection" album, a moaning piece of roots nostalgia with Sir Elton in low vibrato. There's also Tom Petty, My Morning Jacket out of Kentucky, Ryan Adams, Wheat and other rootsy acts with pedal-steel guitars.
For a romance that has the pacing of a seance, Crowe threw a screwball of antic comedy that isn't exactly over the plate. He has to know the risks he was taking with this kind of pitch and he'll have to live with the boxoffice scorecard. But I, for one, am glad I was in the stands. For me, Dunst makes the Hall of Flames.
The Soundtrack Album