The Source for Youth Ministry

Movie Reviews
by Jonathan McKee

Elizabethtown (2/07/2006)

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual references.

Directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Say Anything, Almost Famous…)

Starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Alec Baldwin…

Jonathan's Rating: Theatre Worthy

Ever failed?

Ever lost a billion dollars?

Ever had a really awful day, so dreadful that suicide doesn’t look like such a bad alternative?

Have you ever met someone that made all those bad feelings go away?

Meet Drew Baylor (Bloom), a shoe designer whose company invested almost a billion dollars in his new shoe design… a design that was the biggest failure in history. Accordingly, his girlfriend loses interest in him. And when things just can’t seem to get any worse, the phone rings with more bad news from his sister, “Dad just died.” Now Drew has to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to handle the funeral arrangements.

“How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve barely said hello to?” asks writer-director Cameron Crowe in his new film, Elizabethtown. Crowe, who won an Academy Award® in 2000 for his original screenplay for Almost Famous, again draws on his own experiences – the emotions he felt at his father’s unexpected passing – to inspire a motion picture. Elizabethtown is about a quiet Oregon shoe designer who gets to know his father and his own family roots only after his dad’s death. He is aided in his journey by an unstoppably optimistic woman (Dunst), and a host of family members, who combine in unique ways to teach him what it’s like to be truly alive.

Most of the movie takes place in Elizabethtown, a town where everyone knows everyone. If you don’t live in a place like this, you’ve probably visited one. And Crowe uses this opportunity to bring to life real characters that you and I have either met in our lifetime or rub elbows with day to day.

Those from Kentucky will have an extra appreciation for the film. Claire even coaches Drew how to pronounce Louisville. So real! In my own travels to Kentucky I have been corrected numerous times, “It’s not Loo-eee-ville!”

Opinions are already buzzing about Elizabethtown, to be released this Friday. Some are surprised with what they saw from the director of Jerry McGuire. Elizabethtown isn’t quite what they expected from Cameron Crowe. This one is a little sillier, with elements of a Coen brothers’ film (Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Though?). But I don’t find his use of humor that surprising. Crowe’s favorite films are those that blend comedy with tears. He calls this combination “bread and chocolate.”

When I watched Elizabethtown I was reminded of some of Crowe’s zany moments he scripted and directed in Say Anything when Lloyd Dobler (Cusack) became “keeper of the keys” at a party, the same party where his friend Corey wrote 65 songs about the guy she hates, her recent breakup Joe. Elizabethtown is filled with classic comedic moments like these, laughing at life in all its peculiarities and quirkiness.

And Crowe creates some classic “Cameron Crowe moments” in this film, my favorite being an all night cell phone conversation. Here you will see the blend of Crowe’s classic writing ability with his keen direction as he starts with some phenomenal dialogue and sound bytes, then segues to a moment where he allows the music to take over. Crowe has always been a believer that music is usually more profound than anything the actors might be saying. If the actors are silent and the music plays, Crowe says that “Music gives things a greater meaning. If you get out of music’s way, music can help you catch those moments on film.”

We know that Crowe has a history of creating “quotable” movie moments. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s “Show me the money” is #25 in the AFI’s top 100 movie quotes. Other films have spoofed other Crowe lines like “Help me help you!” or “You had me at ‘hello!’” Elizabethtown delivered a few of these as well, like when Claire says to Drew, “I’m impossible to forget, but hard to remember.” And one of Drew’s final narrations on his road trip “home with dad” in the midst of another musical vignette he comments, “Both of us were working so hard… for what? We should have taken this trip years ago.”

I love Cameron Crowe films. So maybe I’m a little biased even in this review. In my interviewing Cameron and researching his films I’ve probably broke Cameron’s own rule of journalism expressed through the Lester Bangs character in Almost Famous when he said, “You CANNOT make friends with ‘them.’” And he goes on to say, “You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.”

So “unmercifully” I’ll admit, Elizabethtown is no Jerry McGuire. The film is a little disjointed. The movie seems to be divided into four acts and the blending of the acts needs improvement. Even though I enjoyed it all, “Act Four,” which doesn’t arrive until almost 2 hours into the film, was my favorite. “Act Four” departs from the quirky comedy and carries you on a true historical journey across a small part of the U.S. set to a Crowe sound track.

I should probably score this film as a “rental” because then if you rent it you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If I rate it “theatre worthy” you may go in with expectations of another Jerry McGuire or Almost Famous, which it isn’t. But to me, the film was “theatre worthy.” It was a great experience hearing the entire theatre laughing around you. From quirky moments like the exercise bike scene to hilarious dialogue like, “Is there such thing as a partial cremation?” Elizabethtown was a fun experience overall.

Young kids wouldn’t understand it. But I wouldn’t hesitate showing it to a teenager. The message of the film is very positive.

The film drops two “f” bombs and a small handful of other obscenities. There is no sex or nudity, just a scene that implied that an unmarried couple slept together the night before.

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

  1. What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?

  2. How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?

  3. How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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