Elizabethtown

Megan Basham
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Posted: Oct 11, 2005 12:01 AM

Much has been made lately of Hollywood’s ongoing slump. Theories for it have ranged from the technological (DVDs and high definition television create home theaters that rival big screens) to the qualitative (for the first time, studios are openly considering the idea that bad scripts, bad directing, and bad acting might have something to do with audiences staying away).

While both are valid arguments, screenwriter Craig Titley pointed out on this site that history reveals another culprit: political hubris. Titley suggests that the film industry’s blue state machinations have turned 51 percent (the red-state percent) of the ticket-buying market off by insulting their values and mocking their patriotism.

He seems to have a point. Forgetting propaganda dressed up to look like movies like this summer’s The Constant Gardner, even those films that aren’t particularly political are hurt by association with actors who make anti-Bush statements in the wake of natural disasters and anti-American statements in the wake of their morning coffee.

But the junket I recently attended for Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown indicates that filmmakers may finally be getting the message that if they want to sell movies to the “right” half of the country, they can’t make America the bad guy. In fact, if the Elizabethtown marketing machine is any indication, Hollywood’s new movie-selling mantra may very well be, “We love the U.S. of A!”

During Townhall.com’s interview with the cast and crew, Brit Orlando Bloom returned consistently to the idea that Elizabethtown highlights the best part—the flyover part—of America:

“[This film] is a journey through an America that I think the whole world needs to see right now: the heartland of America. I never understood that phrase before. I never understood southern hospitality until I was there… I mean, I’d experienced New York and Los Angeles and other big cities around the world, but I hadn’t experienced the heartland of America and I think that’s what’s portrayed in this movie.”

Of course, film buffs could argue that the heartland gets portrayed plenty in films. It gets portrayed as the place where people lead desperately unhappy, colorless lives filled with racism, oppression and chauvinism (Pleasantville, American Beauty, and Far from Heaven come to mind). But Bloom quiets any concern that this is where Elizabethtown is headed.

“When you go outside any big city, you find community, family, friends, but it doesn’t get portrayed in the way that it is in this movie…Cameron’s not laughing at these people.”

Bloom even said of his experience filming in various small towns in the South, “I just had a whole new understanding, respect, and appreciation for this country that I hadn’t had before.” This may not sound like an earth-shattering admission to us, but coming from an A-list actor who isn’t an out-of-the-closet Republican like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Clint Eastwood, it’s tantamount to a public conversion.

Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise’s partner in the production company responsible for Elizabethtown, echoed enough of Bloom’s statements to make it clear that love of country now makes for a good promotional strategy.

Said Wagner, “[Elizabethtown] is about this journey through the heartland, and we haven’t seen movies like that…I don’t know, I think that people are ready to have a film that gives them some love and embraces them and says let’s talk about what we all have in common as opposed to the differences…[This movie] was done with a lot of love and a lot of respect and hopefully it offers something to people who want to go to a movie and laugh and feel embraced…it kind of transcends the disagreements that have been going on in this country.”

Wagner also makes it clear the patriotism on display in Elizabethtown is no accident: “Cameron [Crowe] was very specific from day one, this movie has been designed to respect and give love to the people, to the metaphor, of all the Elizabethtowns all over the country.”

True-to-form for someone who started life as a rock journalist, Cameron Crowe seemed primarily interested in talking about the music that features prominently in the film. But he did describe his work as a labor of love, saying, “The script was a love letter to my dad and to Kentucky, to that part of the country. I thought, let’s really celebrate it.”

But don’t start imagining that affection for middle America has become Hollywood’s unilateral position. There will always be those who aren’t interested in putting political differences aside. I looked forward to sharing what one of the nation’s most recognized and outspoken liberals had to say on the subject. But, for her part, Susan Sarandon, who costars as Orlando Bloom’s mother, chose not to grant interviews to any of conservative or religious journalists present.

See, even in Tinsel Town, the more things change, the more they stay the same.