‘Elizabethtown’ (and Claire character) may be misunderstood

A couple of weeks ago, I revisited a film that has meant a lot to my wife and me- Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown.” I’ll get into why we love it and how it continues to get more and more relatable in a minute. After viewing it I was looking for information about it and stumbled across a curious opinion piece.

Lindsay Denninger, in an article from 2015 on Bustle.com, opines that “’Elizabethtown‘ is one of those movies that means a lot to you as a wayward teen, (not that I’d know anything about being a wayward teen, mind you) but doesn’t really hold up when you reach adulthood.” Now, maybe it’s because of my own age, but I personally was in my late-20s when I first saw the 2005 film. Is “Elizabethtown” really a feature that appeals to teenagers, with its themes of death, family and rebounding after life knocks you down? (OK, maybe the last one applies.)

She also discusses Claire Colburn (as played by Kirsten Dunst) being something called a manic pixie dream girl, who is a fun, free-living girl who shows a lucky guy how to have fun and get over whatever is troubling him.

The manic pixie dream girl is also apparently represented by Zooey Deschanel’s character in “500 Days of Summer.” You know, the one who dumps Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character after a period of brooding and acting more and more disinterested in him. Hmmm.
The way I see it, “Elizabethtown” is another personal, soulful film from Crowe, along with the lines of predecessors “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire.” Like “Famous,” this is a story rooted in experiences from Crowe’s life, in this case, the death of his father. Drew Baylor (played by Orlando Bloom) gets word of his father’s death as he is hatching a plan to kill himself after the failure of a major shoe campaign he was at the center of. Baylor has to go to the small Kentucky town his father was raised in and had been visiting at the time of his death, to get his father cremated and back home.

On his way to Elizabethtown Drew meets flight attendant Claire, who talks Drew up during a late-night flight and deduces that his father had died. Drew and Claire bond during an hour-long phone conversation, which Denninger also did not enjoy. This felt very real to me, though- I similarly got to know my wife through long phone calls since we went to different universities when we first met. There is also a moment when Drew asks if he can call. Claire later and she does this adorable smile as if saying “I knew you liked me.”

Drew and Claire continue to bond in person while Drew ties up the loose ends of his father’s death and gets to know his father’s relatives (and his father himself). As I get older and see the declining health of my father and father-in-law, I know how precious the time with your loved ones can be.

The film ends with Baylor taking a road trip designed and soundtracked by Claire. Denninger laughable says it’s impressive that Claire put the soundtrack together at a time when the Internet wasn’t that great (does she think 2005 was 1995? We were well past AOL and dial-up by then, and I believe Google Maps also existed). Claire picks relevant and great songs for Drew to play, and many were featured on the two excellent soundtracks to the film. Cameron Crowe has also been the mixtape master, and he perfectly captures the film’s melancholy on those albums. Though we haven’t replicated Drew’s ash-spreading road trip home, my wife and I have taken those CDs on many road trips of our own.

So is “Elizabethtown” worth a first (or maybe second) look? That may depend on your age and place in life. I may not have been hooked on the film had I seen it in my teens. But for me, I can appreciate the troubled times Baylor is going through here, and the potential redemption Claire can help him usher in.

Ted Blanchard

(For equal time, her is Denninger’s article from 2015: https://www.bustle.com/articles/116720-kirsten-dunsts-elizabethtown-character-is-the-manic-pixie-dream-girl-worst)