A number of classic films have been saved in the cutting room: “High Noon,” “Tom Jones” and, perhaps most famously, “Anhedonia,” which was drastically reshaped to become Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” What had been a sprawling, overlong mess was trimmed to a 94-minute love story, with a fresh emphasis on Diane Keaton’s performance in the role that gave the film its title.
Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” has gone through a similar process since its public debut in a longer form at the Toronto International Film Festival, but the results are much less happy. Even with its running time reduced to just under two hours, the movie is a stupefying collection of musical and visual ideas, with almost nothing in the way of a narrative to anchor it.
Certainly the love story can’t be counted on. Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom generate zero chemistry, and no wonder. The characters they’re playing couldn’t be more irritating. She’s a gabby flight attendant, he’s a suicidal industrial designer who has just created a $1 billion shoe-marketing fiasco, and it’s supposed to be love at first sight when they meet on the plane that’s taking him to his father’s funeral in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
“I’m impossible to forget but hard to remember,” says Dunst’s character, and that says it all. Like Bloom’s opening monologue, in which he tries to sum up the difference “between a failure and a fiasco,” the statement comes off as an act of unintentional self-criticism on the part of Crowe and his movie.
There’s no magic in the relationship, and the same goes for the Bloom character’s interaction with the family members who show up for the service. Crowe tries to get some family feeling going between Bloom and a foolish relative who has rock-star dreams, but the actors never really connect. There’s more of a relationship between Bloom and a remote control that allows him to channel-surf through old movies.
Also disappointing is the tired feud between the Southerners and the West Coast members of the family. The recent independent film, “Junebug,” did a much more incisive job of suggesting a similar divide within a Southern family attached to its traditions.
If you thought Crowe had gone off the deep end with his 2001 metaphysical thriller, “Vanilla Sky,” you’ve not seen anything yet. “Elizabethtown” offers Alec Baldwin as Bloom’s bossy boss (we never learn why his shoe business is such a failure), a tap-dancing Susan Sarandon (she plays Bloom’s newly widowed mom), a race to prevent dad’s cremation, a comic-relief funeral that generates no laughs, and a road-trip finale that, for no good reason, takes us to the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination.
This episode is beyond embarrassing. It cracks the taste barrier and enters the realm of the excruciating. Crowe obviously believes he’s saying something about our fallen heroes, but the result just seems clumsy and gratuitous.
Crowe’s movies used to be such giddy fun. Does anyone recall “Say Anything” or “Jerry Maguire” or “Almost Famous” without affection? True, they sometimes walked a tightrope between cute and quirky, but they never, ever fell as spectacularly as “Elizabethtown” does.