A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie begins as a young man has lost his well-paying job and considers suicide; though this act is represented "comically," as he sets up an exercise bike and knife as if to stab himself, it might raise questions for some younger viewers. He must also deal with his father's death (and mother and sister's upset). The film includes references to sexuality (sometimes romantically, but also in ruder contexts, as during drunken boy-talk), and a couple of women appear in scanty clothing. Characters use mild language (out of frustration, anger, and occasional excitement), smoke, and drink (during a weekend-long wedding party, characters are visibly drunk).
What's the story?
While contemplating suicide, Drew (Orlando Bloom) gets a phone call that changes his life: his father has died in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and he needs to retrieve the body and return it to Oregon, home of his mom Hollie (Susan Sarandon) and sister Heather (Judy Greer). The sole flight attendant on his flight, on which he is the sole passenger, gives him her number. Feeling especially bereft some hours later, he calls her and they talk through the night.
Is it any good?
A strangely stultified romance, Cameron Crowe's ELIZABETHTOWN does not know how to end. Or, for that matter, how to begin or develop or provide much in the way of sustained entertainment. Though it plainly aspires to a sort of "freshness," given its peculiar rhythms and offbeat comedy, it's flattened by its focus on a dull boy hero and his clichéd redemption by the love of a quirky girl. The movie takes its time getting to their clinch, as Drew must absorb a slew of life lessons before he can fully appreciate the odd beauties of this special girl. Drew's slow-on-the-uptake ineptitude may be a function of his upbringing (he remembers his dad fondly), his bizarre misreading of Ellen, or his immersion in cubicle-design-think, but the movie doesn't offer much in the way of explanation.
It does offer plenty of banal celebrations of small town values. Not only does Drew come to appreciate the casseroles (courtesy of an aunt played by cooking show host Paula Deen), instant familiarity, and cozy community of Elizabethtown, but he's also witness to what seems a three-tiered father-son dysfunction: his uncle (Loudon Wainwright III), his "Freebird"-loving cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider), and his little screaming nephew Samson. By the time Drew has processed all this Experience (and watched his mother perform a tap dance to "Moon River" in honor of his dad), Elizabethtown is quite over, thank you. But it persists, with a coda in the shape of a road trip, mapped and narrated by Quirky Girl and set to a rock classics-compilation soundtrack, setting Drew's life lessons against an outlandish national history encompassing Elvis at Sun Studios, and memorials marking Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and the Oklahoma City bombing. Maybe it's about losses, recoveries, and recollections. And maybe it's about not knowing how to end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Drew's efforts to come to terms with his father's death, and especially, what this means for his own sense of identity. How does Drew accommodate his mother and sister's needs, at first as a means to put off his own sense of loss, and then as a way to understand his own background and needs? How does the movie represent the idea of "family" as eccentric and stressful, but also supportive and crucial in shaping identity? What are the various models of "family" you see in the movie? How does Drew's erratic romance with Claire eventually provide him with direction, or another, perhaps healthier, lens through which he can see himself?
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