directed by Cameron Crowe
(Paramount, 2005)

Normally, you would have to drag me kicking and screaming to any movie featuring either Alec Baldwin or Susan Sarandon (let alone both of them), but I took a chance on Elizabethtown just so I could watch Kirsten Dunst (whom I now officially adore, by the way). Count this among the good decisions I have made in life. Elizabethtown is a surprisingly rich, sentimental, wonderful film.

Am I crazy, or is Hollywood actually turning out some darn good movies in the last couple of years? Not the big blockbusters, of course. I'm talking about quirky little comedies and dramas that usually don't pay for themselves at the box office but do actually reflect something of intelligence and emotional meaning -- films like Elizabethtown. Yes, the last quarter of the film basically wanders off on its own (the perfectly ridiculous memorial service is exceedingly over-the-top) and dilutes the overall effectiveness of the story, but this is still a wonderful little film that actually has something to say about life and love.

As much as I liked the story, though, I'm not sure it would have worked at all without Dunst. Few actresses have the natural charm and power to brighten up even the darkest of days just by showing up, and it was Dunst's manic energy that really drew me into this whole story.

Everyone makes mistakes -- but only a handful make mistakes that cost their company almost $1 billion. Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is one of that ill-fated number. Who knew there was a billion dollars to be won or lost in the shoe business? This fiasco is so big that Drew decides to kill himself. His attempt is preempted, however, by a phone call carrying the news that his father has died while visiting his hometown friends and family. Since Drew's mother and sister are a little on the loony side, it falls to Drew to travel to Kentucky to bring his father home for the last time.

During his late-night plane trip, he meets an exceedingly helpful and more than a little manic flight attendant named Claire (Dunst), who gives him all sorts of directions and, of course, her phone number. After dealing with his father's family and friends all day, he ends up talking to Claire on the phone all night. Thus is born a rather unusual relationship between these two "substitute people." Claire provides Drew with an emotional base he sorely needs in dealing with his twin tragedies, and she also injects a spontaneity and zest for life into his otherwise morbid, pre-suicidal world.

Elizabethtown does deal with some big themes -- life and death, success and failure -- and I think it all comes together wonderfully. I can't really understand why some viewers see the film as being less than the sum of its parts, as there is definitely meaning to be found in this unusual story. I especially can't see how anyone would view Claire as a shallow character; she has a magical quality that makes her infinitely complex and perfectly refreshing. If you ask me, Dunst is amazingly good in this film. Even the presence of Baldwin and Sarandon isn't enough for me to give Elizabethtown less than a rave review.

by Daniel Jolley
12 August 2006

Buy the DVD from Amazon.com.