Romantic comedy “Elizabethtown” lacks focus

“Elizabethtown,” which opened on Oct. 14, is the latest offering from writer-director Cameron Crowe, who has helmed such films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous.” In “Elizabethtown,” Crowe has attempted to create a romantic-comedy that goes beyond the conventions of typical romantic-comedies, delving into the joy of life and the love of family.

The film tells the story of Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a rising star at a Nike-like athletic shoe company. After designing a revolutionary new shoe, the shoe is recalled, costing the company the operating budget of a small country, as Phil (Alec Baldwin), Drew’s boss, puts it.

After this “fiasco,” as Drew refers to it, he heads home to kill himself, only to be interrupted by a call from his sister telling him of his father’s sudden death while visiting relatives in Kentucky.

Drew puts his death on hold, vowing to finish the deed sometime next week, and flies to Kentucky to retrieve his father’s remains. En route to Kentucky, Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a cheery flight attendant and his ultimate love interest. In Kentucky, Drew reconnects with his large extended family and, aided by Claire along the way, comes to rediscover the joy of life.

“Elizabethtown,” while it does have its great moments, is a mixed bag. The music is wonderful and plays a major part in the development of the movie. But one cannot help feeling that the music plays too major a part in the film.

From the opening scene the music kicks in, and throughout the movie it buffers most of the scenes, providing the emotion that the actors are supposed to provide.

As an actor, Bloom fails to carry off the range of emotions that Drew supposedly feels. His expressions remain relatively static throughout the film, rendering him much less interesting a main character than his Kentucky relations, or even Claire, who has some flaws of her own.

As a woman who is “impossibly optimistic,” Dunst plays Claire with an endless supply of sunny smiles and a happy energy, and she comes off as amiable enough. But Claire, as the voice of the film, also spouts a whole lot of pseudo-philosophical nonsense. A big deal is made of being “substitute people,” for instance, which is obviously meant to be deep and meaningful, but ends up merely annoying.

Such misplaced intentions also characterize the movie. There were times when the film felt very long and slightly boring despite its attempts to enlighten and delight. It seemed that the best moments were sidetracks, unrelated to the overarching story.

The film suffers from trying to do too much at once. It is not quite a story about Kentucky, or about family, as these themes jostle for screen time with the romance between Drew and Claire. And yet, despite being billed as a romantic comedy, Drew and Claire’s romance makes up roughly half of the movie. Those who come to the movie looking solely for a romantic story will most likely be disappointed.

This lack of focus is a real shame, because “Elizabethtown” shows the seeds of a great movie. “Elizabethtown” itself is a fascinating place, where everyone knows everyone else, where the inhabitants are friendly, and where is there is a rich, vibrant culture that is uniquely American. Drew’s musical road trip is equally fascinating. The people and sights he passes make for a wonderful glimpse into America’s “heartland.”

There are snippets of greatness in the movie, and the film shows a great deal of potential. But ultimately, “Elizabethtown” falls short.