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Life is a Road Trip: An Analysis of "Elizabethtown"
Have you seen "Elizabethtown?"
Elizabethtown (2005) stars Orlando Bloom as Drew Baylor and Kirsten Dunst as Claire Colburn. Drew has made it as a successful shoe designer, after years of dedication and doing everything he is supposed to do. That is, until he takes a chance that fails and destroys his career. Right as he is about to take his own life, he receives a wake up call, literally. His sister, Heather (Judy Greer) tell him that their father, Mitch (Tim Devitt), has passed away. His father's death, his family, and an unexpected stranger (Dunst) changes his outlook on everything. It is when he learns to let go that he rediscovers himself.
Perhaps it's just my taste, but a lot of films I enjoy, these days, tend to be rated among 5-6 stars on sites such as Internet Movie Database and include complaints that I find silly. This movie is no exception. Some disliked Orlando Bloom's and Kirsten Dunst's acting. I think the cause for this has more to do with other factors than simply they did poorly. Personally, I think they did great jobs, equally. Until this film, I had not seen either of them in these types of roles before. Also, the plot was fairly simple, and some people prefer more action. If that was the case, the critical reviewers should have chosen a different film.
Drew: In that moment, I knew success, not greatness, was the only god the world served.
Drew is accustomed to being judged by his accomplishments. Claire encourages him to venture out into the unknown by taking a road trip back home. On the road, he visits locations where famous historical icons once were and meets people who have met some of these important figures. Seeing all of this makes him realize he wasn't really living by working so hard on his career and staying isolated. He should have been spending more time on family, especially on his dad, while he was alive: "Look at us. You with your many almost-great projects, me with my fiasco..Both of us working so hard...for what? We should have taken this trip years ago.
Drew never took the time to get to know his father, but after getting to know his father's family, he learns what a wonderful person he was. It probably makes him appreciate what a supportive father he had compared to the way his uncle treats his cousin, Jessie. Drew shows his nephew, Samson, a behavioral video which helps him in the way his uncle wants, but without being overbearing in a way that goes against Jessie's values as a parent. This has the potential to help the relationship between Jessie and Jessie's father. It's something meaningful Drew contributes to his family and society that he wasn't able to through his career as a shoe designer.
As for Orlando Bloom's acting, Drew Baylor has to come off as forced and awkward. He has spent all of his energy trying to please others to become what society deems to be the image of success. Once that no longer works, he is lost. Of course he is going to be uncomfortable and still fake a lot of his personality. It's Claire who really changes all of that about him.
Claire: Do you want to be really great? Then, have the courage to fail big, and stick around. Make them wonder why you're still smiling. That is true greatness to me.
Claire doesn't care about the success of a person. Her life is constant travel as a flight attendant, so she is used to the chaos of flying. She is searching for someone to give her stability. When she visits Drew at the hotel, where Chuck and Cindy are celebrating their wedding, she envies their relationship. During Drew's fiasco, he wasn't nearly as upset about the end of his affair with his co-worker, Ellen (Jessica Biel), as with his career. Once Claire inspires Drew to realize how important relationships, of all kinds, are he gives her the security she was looking for.
Like Drew, Claire is also exaggerated and clumsy; therefore, Dunst's acting requires being overly cheerful as a flight attendant, no matter the situation. Half the time she is genuinely that obnoxiously energetic and the other half she is just a sweet person afraid of getting hurt. They are both struggling in their own ways, and it's part of what makes the film so great.
Claire: Do you ever think, "I'm fooling everyone?"
Drew: You have no idea.
Hollie:...Why couldn't I have been funnier when Mitch was alive? But you know, I figured it out. It takes time to be funny..and it takes time to extract joy from life.
Hollie (Susan Sarandon) has clearly been the parent who tries to hold everything together, but when Mitch passes, she loses control. For a while, she is a mess, but in the end she becomes an even more honest and lovable person. Through losing the love of her life, she realizes she wasn't really living. She embraces the experience of learning things she has never needed to worry about. This new found love of knowledge inspires her to take classes for activities she always wanted to know how to do, but thought she would never take up. In a way, her new outgoing personality is like Mitch.
"If it wasn't this...it'd be something else."
Do/Did you know someone like Mitch?
The character who is in the film, who we never actually see in the present-tense, is Mitch himself. Within everyone's description and story of him, we see his character. Most characters feel a need to maintain composure, while a few are untamed like Mitch. The ones who try too hard highlight how different Mitch was.
We all start out free-spirited, loving, and open-minded, but society gradually manipulates us to conform, fear, and hate. Eventually, we can't appreciate the good that is happening in the present moment. We only appreciate it when it's gone. I think it's time we start looking around for the pleasant surprises life throws our way, and let it take us places we weren't planning to go. After all, isn't life itself like a road trip?
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