Cameron Crowe is one of the great filmmakers of our time. His movies aren't just enjoyable experiences, but works of art that seem to stick with us long after we've seen them. Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Singles... these films are captivating and enduring. And a big part of Crowe's gift has been to craft soundtracks to these films that elevate the movies into our consciousness many years later. Remember Tom Cruise shouting out the chorus to Free Fallin' as he raced along the highway, a busload of people singing Tiny Dancer, and John Cusack using In Your Eyes to profess his love? Vanilla Sky would have been something else entirely without the incredible soundtrack.
The music in Elizabethtown does not disappoint. However, whereas in his previous films Crowe used music as a device to help capture the emotion of the story, Elizabethtown's story and characters are underdeveloped (despite a two hour running time) and far too much reliance is placed on the soundtrack. Crowe seems to have spent too much time creating a wonderful mix tape and not enough on the screenplay. Perhaps because the film was based, in part, on his own healing following the death of his father, Crowe did not dig deep with his characters, and we are left without the personal introspection that usually follows seeing his movies.
The film does leave us with great new imagery to think of whenever we hear the highly mocked but honestly great "Freebird," and we do feel a renewed interest in creating mixtapes and taking roadtrips, so it was not a total waste of time. Also, Nancy Wilson's score is magnificient, and I've already added her CD's to my wishlist. Sadly though, I regret to report that so far, for me, the most enduring images of Elizabethtown weren't what Crowe was attempting. Unless he indeed wanted me to ponder Kirsten Dunst's odd smile.
Of course the true test of any film is time, and perhaps I'm rushing to judgement. The film's messages of appreciating life, love, music, and America may endure after all.