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Elizabethtown

Movies | Like several other recent films, this Cameron Crowe film deals with the cultural divide separating urban and rural, East and West, the coast and the heartland with some subtlety and understanding

Issue: "Malaria: Kill or be killed," Oct. 29, 2005

Cameron Crowe's new semiautobiographical film, Elizabethtown (rated PG-13 for bad language and some sexual references), arrives in theaters somewhat crippled by poor festival reviews and a last-minute re-editing job.

Mr. Crowe's new cut is still kind of a mess. The plot veers wildly from quiet, understated moments to over-the-top scenes that verge on parody. But Mr. Crowe still manages to tell an idiosyncratic story that deals affectionately with characters often marginalized by Hollywood.

Orlando Bloom (Legolas from the Lord of the Rings movies) stars as Mr. Crowe's stand-in, high-flying sneaker designer Drew Baylor. More accurately, Drew is a formerly high-flying sneaker designer. As the film opens, his new shoe design has been recalled, the company losing nearly $1 billion in the process.

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On the heels of this disaster comes news that Drew's father has died suddenly during a visit to his Louisville, Ky., relatives. At the request of his mother (Susan Sarandon), he flies to Louisville to retrieve his father's body.

Reared on the West Coast, Drew returns to his family home an outsider. In Louisville, his crisis of identity peaks-his professional life is in shambles, his relationship with his father is filled with regret, and he's surrounded by a strange but loving family he barely knows or understands.

Elizabethtown, like several other recent films, deals with the cultural divide separating urban and rural, East and West, the coast and the heartland with some subtlety and understanding. The portrait of Drew's Kentucky family traffics in a few caricatures, but his story is never one of simply a Northern sophisticate among Southern rednecks.

Drew's guide through this journey is quirky airline stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst). Their budding relationship forms the center of the film and is alternately compelling and just plain odd.

Like all of Mr. Crowe's films, Elizabethtown is set to a terrific soundtrack of songs that clearly carry a personal significance for the director. When Mr. Crowe's film works, we feel as though we're listening to the mix tape of someone we've grown to know very well.

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