Thursday, September 15, 2005

Do You Know the Way to Elizabethtown?

The United States scrutiny heard at the Toronto International Film Festival is one of consistent criticism due to failed emergency rescues in New Orleans. These days, everyone, from TV commentators to festival attendees, appears critical of the U.S. The non-political exception is filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, a half-baked fantasy of small-town America with kids jumping on a trampoline and everyone waving to the film’s outsider hero, Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), as he drives into the rural Kentucky town to make the funeral arrangements for his father.

Baylor is a failed shoe designer who just lost his Nike-like employer millions but that plot detail is just background for the film’s core themes: coming home again, the joy of simpler lives and reuniting with family.

Orlando Bloom is old fashioned handsome as Baylor, the film’s adrift hero. Kirsten Dunst makes good use of her full moon face and blonde hair as Claire, the flirty flight attendant who wins Drew’s heart.

Susan Sarandon salvages her screeching performance as Drew’s mother with a heartfelt speech at the climactic memorial service.

Elizabethtown is a combo of the Frank Capra film It’s A Wonderful Life and TV classic The Andy Griffith Show but never feels as fresh or as real as it should. (Its distributor, Paramount Pictures describes the film as a “work in progress” with changes expected for its release this fall).

A festival film that sells out at the box office means it claims plenty of stars or it’s very good. Elizabethtown is more of the former thanks to its beautiful lead actors.

Crowe reaches throughout Elizabethtown -- and it’s fun to watch a creative person like Crowe reach even when he fails.