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Monday, February 20, 2006
Over the weekend, I was able to check out the latest Cameron Crowe movie, Elizabethtown. I'd been curious about the movie when it was in theaters because a)I've enjoyed most of Crowe's other movies (I even liked Vanilla Sky) and b)it has Kirsten Dundst in it.

But for some reason or other, I never made it to the theater to see the movie. Of course, I've not yet made it to a theater to see King Kong or Narnia either. I know--I'm a bad movie fan.

Finally seeing Elizabethtown, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by it. Seems to me that in his movies, Crowe creates flawed male characters who are loved by quirky females who help the flawed males find redemption over the course of the movie. That was pretty much the theme of Jerry McGuire and Say Anything and that same dynamic is in play here.

The flawed male lead this time is Drew Baylor, played by Orlando Bloom (in a role written for him by Crowe. Imdb tells us that Ashton Kutcher was cast for a while but just like Eric Stoltz in the original Back to the Future, it just didn't work and thankfully, Bloom became available in time to shoot the movie). Drew is a hot-shot at a shoe company who has spent years of his life and close to a billion dollars of the company's money to design and market a shoe that turns out to be a flop. Or as Drew and others put it, "a fiasco." Drew is fired, talks to a business journal and gets dumped by his girlfriend who also works at the shoe company. He's naturally a little upset about this, even going so far as to contemplate his own offing and starting the process when he gets a phone call from his sister.

His father has passed away. She and their mother want Drew to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to get his body. Drew figures he'll put his plans on hold and heads out to Elizabethtown. On the empty plane, he meets Claire, played by Kirsten Dundst. Claire gets Drew to sit in first class so she won't have to hike as far back to check on him and insists on talking to him, despite his expressed desire to be left alone. At the end of the plane trip, Claire writes out directions to Elizabethtown for him and includes her phone number. The two say farewell in the airport, but as you know, they'll cross paths again.

The rest of the movie is about Drew's journey, literally and figuratively. He calls Claire and the two end up talking on the phone for hours--up to the point that they meet to watch the sunrise halfway between Nashville and Elizabethtown. Claire keeps cropping up, sensing that Drew needs her and making him confront his feelings about his failure and his growing sense of isolation. (At one point, Drew's sister points out he doesn't make friends easily, to which Drew says--I've got friends. Yeah, not so much). As Drew gets slowly pulled into the social structure of Elizabethtown and the wedding party staying at his hotel, he keeps finding himself intereacting with Claire and working through the emotions from his failure and his father's death. There's also the sense of never put off until tomorrow what you can do today as Drew regrets not having time to take a road trip with his dad that the two of them always talked about.

At this point, I've only given away much of the first hour of the movie, though I don't feel so bad since if you saw the previews, you know most of this. I will say this--Elizabethtown is good but not great. It's a bit episodic at times, with some of those episodes being good and some being not as enlightening. Also, Crowe's trademark of having quirky characters does backfire a bit here as it seems he's trying to hard to have everyone have their own special quirk instead of being fully realized, supporting characters. Recall Jerry McGuire and think of Bonnie Hunt's sister only without quite as much backstory or nuance. It's a shame really but there aren't any parts that you felt like you could necessarily fast-forward through or skip past for fear of missing something vital (or in my case, hoping Kirsten Dundst would be there looking cute).

I know that in watching the movie, I kept finding myself identifying with Drew's character. I think Crowe is able to do that with some many of his flawed male protagonists. He makes them human and accessible. In fact, I'd have to say that Crowe writes dialogue that most of us ordinary men wish we could come up with under similiar circumstances. Sure, that Bruce Springsteen song ran the phrase "You complete me" into the ground, but damn if it wasn't exactly the right words for that moment and it summed up everything succicently and simply. No matter how overplayed it became, you have to admit that moment really worked.

I sense in Drew this profound sense of overwhelming loneliness. He seems to have all these things that would make up a successful life, but yet, he's still fundamentally unhappy. It's all fleeting. One day he's on top of the world, the next he's a scapegoat for a project gone horribly awry.

As the movie unfolds, we see Claire's pursuit of Drew, not only romantically but to come to terms with his failures. To take risks in life even though he's failed. At one point. Drew reveals his failure to Claire who says, "You failed" a number of times to him and then remarks that it doesn't matter that he did to her. As we first meet and see Drew, he's isolated. He's in a bubble or shell and it takes Claire's almost unrelenting pursuit to crack the shell and make him come out of it--not only to face what's going on but to figure out that there's more to life than what he originally thought of as success.

It's one of those Carpe Diem or stop and smell the roses type of lessons.

I figured I'd just turn it off and forget about it. But yet, it's not one of those movies that I've been able to easily do that. It's not like Back to the Future or Star Trek II, where I want to start the DVD again just to experience the magic and relive my favorite moments again. No, it's more one of those things were I find myself being contemplative and reflective about things.

First of all, I'm not in any way, shape or form down on my life enough to want to take the extreme measures that Drew does. I just want to put your mind at rest about that. For every one bad thing in my life, I can think of three more good or great things.

But, I found myself identifying with Drew's sense of isolation at times. I think part of Drew's long conversation with Claire in the beginning is this almost sense of relief to have somone to talk to who is not asking him to be something, but is instead letting Drew be Drew in all of his quirkiness and vulnerability. It does take some time before he reveals the true nature of his trip, but Claire's put it together anyway by the point.

In a way, I find myself looking at this movie and thinking about my grandfather. He's not been doing well of late. I've blogged about it a few times, but he's had a big decline in his health the past couple of months. He's 92 and he's lived a great life. I'd be lying if there were times I didn't get on my knees and ask God why he's still here in this diminished capacity when I can see my grandmother in heaven, waiting impatiently for him to be there so they can be together for all of eternity. Don't get me wrong--I'm grateful for every day he's here and every opportunity I have to share with him. But sometimes when he's having a bad day or hurting a lot, I wonder about these things.

I also find myself preparing to lose him. Every time I hear my mom talk about taking him the ER, a little bit of thinks--well, this is it. With my other three grandparents their passing was sudden and without warning. With my grandfather, it's been a gradual thing. It won't make his passing any easier to take, mind you. It's just been a bit more of an emotional roller coaster. Preparing for the worst, praying for the best and wondering what's going to happen and if it's going to be somewhere in between.

I know that when he goes, I'll be sad that he's gone. But also happy that he's finally at peace and in a better place.

Doesn't make it any easier to think about.

Or about the sense of loneliness I get when I think about it. See, a couple of years ago, we had a bad summer in my family. It was the summer of 2001 and, quite frankly, it sucked. It's not one I'm grabbing the DeLorean and jumping back to re-experience. During that time, I did my best to be the son, grandson, brother, etc. my family needed. I cried with my baby sister on the phone when she lost her baby and words couldn't express the profound sorrow and loss I felt for her and her husband. I managed to make it through entire days at the hosptial visiting my grandfather and sister without getting dizzy or feeling faint once becuase my family needed me to be strong. But I come back to how I felt at times during that period--when I'd wake up late at night, feeling alone and overwhelmed. I'd lay there and cry, wishing I had someone to talk to, to take away my loneliness and isolation. To give me a hug and tell me it was OK or to cry with me or to listen to me talk or even to just watch old Dr Who reruns with becuase it helped me escape and forget about things for 25 minutes.

I remember one of the things I was most excited about and hoped for when I got married was that sense of having a partner to face these things with in life. To be a rock for her and for her to be a rock for me. Of course, things didn't quite work out that way. We're divorced now and I've not spoken to her for over two years. But I know it's for the best.

But there are times when I know I'm going to be lonely and wanting something. And it's not that I don't have friends. I am blessed with a group of friends that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. But I do have a problem in sometimes asking for help. I remember in the weeks following my sister's loss of her child and then us almost losing her, going around in a daze. And I'm always amazed at how small children can figure out what we need most and give it to us. See, I was at the church picnic, just standing there watchig BrainyBoy and Giggle Girl play and have a good time. It was hard because I was so excited about being an uncle to my own flesh and blood...Barry and Laura blessed me by allowing me to be Uncle Michael to BB and GG, but part of me was so excited to take what I'd learned from spoiling them and put it to use on my own neice or nephew. So, I was pretty devestated and upset. And I hadn't really expressed it that much to friends...I'd come close but never quite put in into words. (Hell, I used to get mad that the Wal-Mart at Walker Springs in Knoxville has the baby stuff so close to the food so I had to see it every time I went in for milk). So, I'm standing there and suddenly GG goes, "Uncle Michael needs a hug" and she runs over as only a three year old can do...I bend down and hug her...and I'm crying. It's a moment I've never forgotten and it's one of the million reasons GG is such a special little lady.

Now, I don't say all of this to make any of you feel bad or to garner a sympathy hug. I say it because, for me, this blog is about my writing down some of the inner thought I'm having. It's a way of getting things out in the open for myself and not rolling around inside my head. It's a release. It's something that's been on my mind and heart..and while on some level it's hard to think about it, on some others it makes me realize that it's time to start seroiusly looking around again for some close friends close by and to not forget the ones I have who are geographically distant. I've asked prayers before and I've felt them working at times from all of you who are included that way...and I'm grateful. You have no idea. But it also makes me think--it's time to stop dwelling on the past, feeling isolated and to get out there and see who is there. To see if there is a woman out there who could be the Claire to my Drew....

OK, I think that's enough self-reflection for now....

posted by Michael Hickerson at 2/20/2006 03:09:00 PM | |
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