Cameron Crowe’s films share common themes and styles, and he is one of the few true auteurs working in film today. Writing and directing his films, he is able to inject them with a personal quality that is lacking in many modern directors’ works.
His latest, “Elizabethtown” (Paramount), follows Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a failed shoe designer whose latest creation has lost his employer close to a billion dollars. On the brink of suicide, he is notified of his father’s sudden death and is sent to the miniscule town of Elizabethtown, Ky., to attend his memorial. On the plane ride over, he meets a friendly flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who is able to help him get back on his feet and understand what is important in life.
As with most of Crowe’s films, Elizabethtown is semi-autobiographical. In an interview with The Hatchet, Crowe talked about his personal connection to the film:
“When we got to the part of the state that my father was from, Stanton, it felt so much like a purpose to do the whole movie. Orlando is playing a guy who’s a stranger in a strange land, but the strange land is the epicenter of the family roots, and that’s what I felt like when I was in Kentucky.
“The sensation of seeing people that look like you, who know you really well, that are in your family, so they’re strangers but not really, was a real sensation that stuck with me, and I wanted to know them better, and I got to know them better when I made the movie.”
Bloom’s starring role in a deeply American film is a little awkward at times, and his accent is rough in a few spots; but ultimately, he becomes Drew Baylor, and he is able to perfectly fit into the character.
“All my friends took me aside and said ‘y’know Cameron, he is from the (United Kingdom), and this is an American part,'” he said. “I had a long talk with Orlando, and he said ‘Trust me, I’ll put in the work and I’ll come through for you,’ and he did.”
Originally written with him in mind, Bloom had to drop out due to his obligations to “Kingdom of Heaven.” Crowe tried to recast the role, settling on Ashton Kutcher at one point, then firing him when he discovered the lack of chemistry between him and Kirsten Dunst.
“None of them, as great as those guys are as actors, felt as fresh to me as Orlando playing a stranger in a strange land,” Crowe said. “I like watching his emotions and the stuff you can read behind his eyes.”
The tone of the film also changed during the development phase.
“I originally wrote it as an out-and-out comedy, or a more whimsical comedy, like ‘Harold and Maude,’ one of my favorite movies,” he said. “This one got more serious in a good way.”
Music is always a key element in Crowe’s films, and “Elizabethtown” is no exception. The soundtrack features acoustic American soul that fits in with the theme of the film and the Kentucky environment. Heavily featured is the band My Morning Jacket, whose songs appear in the film, and whose band members perform at the memorial banquet.
“This one just arrived with music,” Crowe said. “I was listening to a lot of music when the idea first came to me. I was listening to a lot of Ryan Adams and Patty Griffin and Tom Petty.”
Also showcased prominently is the Elton John song “My Father’s Gun,” which perfectly accompanies the road trip at the end of the film and is played almost in its entirety.
“You almost diminish some of the songs by using them particularly incorrectly, so I try to let the song play as much as possible, so it’s not thrown away,” he said. “When it works, it’s the greatest feeling.”
Ultimately, the film ends up as an exploration of family and love against the backdrop of small-town America. These themes make it fit into Crowe’s body of work, something that is intentional on his part.
“Hopefully, at some point, all the movies that I’ve been able to do fit together as a common portrait of what it was to be alive right now.”
“Elizabethtown” opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 14.