Cameron Crowe is a filmmaker who knows the ins and outs of falling in love. From the awkward groping of teenagers trying to make a connection in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything, to the postmodern cynics realizing that sex means something in Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, to the commitment-phobic playboy finding his heart in Jerry MacGuire, his work has covered almost every variation of it.
The amazing thing about all these films is that, though they begin with players in different stages of life, the relationships Crowe forges always feel authentic. The key to making all these amours work in the past was a flawed, yet enchanting object of affection—that is, a cute girl. But in his latest film, Elizabethtown, Crowe may have overplayed his ideal woman hand.
The film opens with Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a wunderkind tennis-shoe designer whose latest project has failed abominably, preparing to commit suicide by throwing himself, hari-kari style, onto a dagger strapped to his Lifecycle. A call from his sister (Judy Greer) informing him that their father has died saves him from his impending death-by-cardio, and almost immediately, Drew puts his wallowing into perspective and flies to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to confront his grief, his fear, his failure, and his extended family. However, like Jerry Maguire, Drew needs a woman to help him complete his transition into maturity. Enter Claire Colburn, the flight attendant on Drew’s empty plane to Louisville that knows just the right things to say and do to guide the young man safely through his storm.
And here, after a deliciously wicked cameo by Alec Baldwin (I know a lot of conservatives wish he would have fulfilled his campaign promise and moved elsewhere when his guy lost, but the guy’s such a phenomenal actor, I just can’t be one of them), is where the problems start.
Of course we expect Drew’s love interest to be mildly more impressive than some dingy club-hopper, but Crowe makes Claire so worthy of Drew’s affections, she feels artificial. Whereas Renee Zellweger’s Dorothy in Jerry MaGuire betrayed lovable insecurity and naiveté, Claire is inexplicably wise beyond her years. She incessantly makes statements like, “I want you to experience deep, beautiful melancholy,” that sound pretentious coming from a girl in her early twenties (actually, they sound pretentious coming from anyone, but especially from Kirsten Dunst’s chirpy mouth.)
But even more unreal than the things Claire says, are things she knows.
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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