Thursday, January 05, 2006


Before I begin, I confess that I am a Cameron Crowe fan, having seen most of his movies, which I enjoyed, and having met and spoken to him during his Vanilla Sky premiere in Singapore back in late 2001 (with Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz in attendance as well). So you might think that this review is biased, that I'm gonna praise this movie sky high. Fact is, I will, only because it's an enjoyable film, with many fascinating facets to it, and one which made me ponder through the points presented throughout.

While most critics (pah! what do they know?) panned this movie, and I think many here might not like it too (groupies of Orlando Bloom don't count) and I'd like to speculate why. It might be because of the many little disjointed subplots that this movie actually contains. There's not really a main theme, but many small ones. No one big idea, but many little ones. But that is Life, isn't it? So many non-linear events happening around us all the time, some making sense now, some don't, some perhaps later, others none at all.

But that in essence is what this movie is all about. It's about the discovery of oneself, about the celebration of life, even in death. It's also about the concept of failure, that it is definitely not the end of the world, that if faced with defeat, to take all 5 minutes to wallow and whine, then move on, because the world is not going to take pity on you.

It's about letting go of inhibitions, and living life as it should be lived, as you would like to live it. But Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) certainly doesn't begin as such. He's a shoe designer whose latest model bombed in the market, and is faced with a fiasco which cost the company close to one billion dollars in losses. His is a life of perceived success, until his world came crashing down and he contemplates ending it.

But news about his father's death interrupted his own plans to die, and he's tasked with the responsibility of cremating his father's remains to bring back to his family in Orlando. However, his father's extended family and relatives have plans to bury him, and herein lies his dilemma - how to drive home the point that they should respect his family's wishes, even though his father Mitch was many things to many different people, and they remembered him in their own unique way.

Through the interaction with these relatives, he learns more about his father than what he already thought he knew. Similar to In Her Shoes where the character in question rarely or never takes up screen time, we learn so much of a person through dialogue, and many eulogies given, some comical of course.

Which is similar to other Crowe movies, the injection of wry humour, great music and many quirky characters which add colour to the plot. And one such character, which I think most would love to hate, would be Claire Colburn, played by Kirsten Dunst.

Here's one character with so much optimism, you'd think it's too good to be true. She contrasts the pessimism in Drew with her positive attitude, and many might think the road trip finale is one that might be stretching credibility. But hey, she's demonstrating the idea of living life with passion, and going after what she wants, never dwelling on the what ifs and of course, never letting the fear of failure get in the way. She brings about a new dimension to what we seen in Drew, with his plans to die cast in stone, and what we see in the many compromises between Drew's extended family. She's Spontaneity, the kind who would light up any party with life and exuberance.

The finale too hokey? Well, I've had my fair share of crazy/weird things done before, and looking at it in positive light, all it boils down to is meticulous planning, passion, and a dash of luck. Which brings me back to Cameron Crowe again. It reminded me of that particular insane night when it all happened. The road trip, though long, provided what I'd like to call a quick tour of the USofA (it really seemed like it), against a background of choice music. Makes me wanna go on one myself too.

Particularly poignant to me would be the part about family. Drew regretted not having done certain things with his Dad, like postponing their road trip indefinitely. Woke me up to the notion that with mortality, you should never put off things that you plan to do with family. You'll never know when it'll be too late, for regrets.

Much have been said about the two lead's acting, but I'd like to add that I love their portrayals of their respective characters. Bloom and Dunst have great chemistry, which makes their scenes a joy to watch. I thought Susan Sarandon chewed up the screen in her limited screen time as Drew's mom, who initially we thought was going insane when the love of her life passed away, until we realise the immense passion she had for him. Really touching moment, disguised by comedy.

While Vanilla Sky had a relationship concept known as f* buddies, here we're introduced to being Substitute People. Though it's the first time I'm hearing it, the concept's definitely not new, and I guess many would be able to identify such situations in their lives. And think them through.

With so much to offer in a compact 2 hours, Elizabethtown certainly is a complex movie. One which should be enjoyed when you're in a positive state of mind. Definitely a reminder of what our priorities should be, in the hustle and bustle of life.

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