In Which This Recording Is Your Favorite Romantic Comedy

We Peaked On The Phone

by Molly Lambert

Since Alex is spearheading a movement to review bad forgotten romantic comedies that are several years out of date, and since This Recording is always on a quest to understand why Hollywood has such a hard time making a decent romantic comedy, or any kind of decent romance for that matter, unless it stars The Joker and Bubble Boy as cowgays, and since often a bad film can tell you much more about the mechanics of success than a good one I have taken it upon myself to review Cameron Crowe’s 2005 film Elizabethtown.

Bubble Boy: The Original WALL*E

It’s a little stupifying that a silent comedy about robots packed more emotion than any of the talky rom-coms that might somewhat better mirror actual life. Also, I had dumb bone to pick with the fact that WALL*E is a junky Bender robot and his love interest is a sleek sexy iPod thing. Can we say “out of your league”?

“It’s kinda like Knocked Up, but with robots”

I know it’s a throwback to Chaplin in The Little Tramp. In his films sometimes actually fell in love with girls whose economic station was the same as his own, like in City Lights. In real life, he was kind of a sex addict with a thing for much younger girls.

“I’m sorry Charlie. I”m just not that into you.”

I don’t think ephebophilia is a direct criteria for genius, but certainly a lot of the greatest directors (and artists, musicians, etc.) have also had some of the most fucked up sex lives. There’s definitely not no connection between wanting to play god with a camera and thinking it’s a great idea to marry your dead wife’s twenty year old sister (that would be Peter Bogdanovich)

Deadpan: good for comedy, bad for marriage

Buster Keaton married a nurse from a psychiatric hospital he stayed in. Some of my favorite directors are pederasts (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen). Even if Hitchcock never cheated once on Mrs. Hitchcock, you do not look at that guy’s canon and go “now there is a dude with a healthy set of sexual standards for women.”

“Do you think you could act more icy and removed?”

You could chalk all this up to an “appetite for life” if you think that’s a worthy excuse for deviant behavior by geniuses, (it is not). An inability to follow The Golden Rule may satisfy in the short term but inevitably causes existential horror and terminal aloneness in the long. The common thread here is that all of these dudes are enormously narcissistic Falstaffian personalities.

Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire: “I swallowed your cum!

For these directors, their appetite for sex is an outgrowth of their appetite for acclaim, for drink and illicit substances, for foodstuffs. Orson Welles’s daily dinner during Citizen Kane included a whole pineapple, triple pistachio ice-cream and a full bottle of scotch. (Yum.) These directors are great, perhaps, precisely because they are such Caligulan figures, such Nietzschean Supermen.

“God that’s hilar Lloyd. You are so dull. Let’s make out.”

You would never say that about Cameron Crowe. No, Cameron Crowe espouses a gentler, more insidious, shall we say more emosogynist approach to women. He wants to be both earnest and cool, populist and a cult favorite, a nice guy and a golden god of sex. If he were a band he’d be Coldplay. And when you look back at his work, it seems clear that this has always been his deal.

Alex’s fave actress Kate Hudson preps to eat yr soul

Crowe’s ambition to be a great American director reached a frothy boil in Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, and then collapsed like a sad soufflé in his two tremendous misfires of followups, (science fiction abortion) Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown. Like Jersey Girl, Crowe’s Elizabethtown is a film about failure that is itself a complete failure, which in its total ineptitude becomes an interesting relic of half-formed ideas and attempts.

Elizabethtown and Jersey Girl both begin with the protagonist’s career collapsing in on itself. In Jersey Girl, it is a misguided assessment of Will Smith’s bankability that sets off Affleck’s downward spiral. In Elizabethtown, the horrifically miscast Orlando Bloom takes the blame for a failed shoe launch at a Nike-like company headed by Alec Baldwin, one of the few bright spots.

Orlando Bloom is spectacularly wrong for the part of Crowe’s loserly everyman, and word on the street was that he filled in at the last minute for first two choices Jimmy Fallon and Ashton Kutcher, who both proved themselves (unsurprisingly, one might say) unable to act whatsoever in a dramatic context.

Because tiny Englishman Bloom is so miscast as Kentuckian industrial designer Drew Baylor, he adds a strange transparent quality to the film. His performance is so perfunctory and passive as to become invisible, which makes Elizabethtown seem at times like a first-person-shooter rom-com. In being so very bland, he draws attention to the central problem of Crowe’s films.

Cameron Crowe’s male main characters are always ciphers. Expressing a minimum of personality and a maximum burden of expectation, they seek out the company of a female who will somehow justify them and their existence. They often start the film embroiled in a relationship with an unstable Slutty Girl with a catch phrase, Kelly Preston in Jerry Maguire’s “Never stop fucking me!“, Jessica Biel’s “It was real, and it was great, and it was really great”, Cameron Diaz in Vanilla Sky‘s “I swallowed your cum!

“I enjoy sex and have a personality, and so I must be destroyed”

After summarily dumping the Slutty Girl, they get to quickly plunge into a tremblingly meaningful relationship with the wispy, sometimes wayward, yet basically devoid of any bad moods or qualities whatsoever Good Girl (Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane, Renee Zellweger’s Dorothy, Penelope Cruz’s Sofia, Ione Skye’s Diane Court) who teaches them how to live/appreciate life.

“I have no personality or life, and I’ve never even seen a penis!”

The legacy of Say Anything, in which a totally boring guy decides he should date the most popular (and also boring, but smoking hot) girl in school in order to somehow justify his own medioctrity, can be seen at its most full blown in Zach Braff’s Garden State. Other perpetrators are Wes Anderson, who generally throws the “foreign girl” wrench into the mix, Kevin Smith, who adds lots of homosocial gay subtext, and parts of Judd Apatow’s oeuvre.

“Just making you a multi-volume scrapbook and mix CDs”

In Elizabethtown, all the gimmicks that worked so well in Almost Famous are trotted out only to flop around like dying fish. There are long sequences set to music that are meant to evoke emotion, and instead only evoke the cognitive dissonance of having the soundtrack and what you are seeing onscreen not match up at all with what you are actually feeling. It is truly bizarre.

The worst part of the film (and that is saying a lot) is Susan Sarandon’s eulogy for her dead husband, which she delivers to a packed house of mourners. During her speech, the crowd seems to experience a cathartic release of laughter which turns into tears of joy for the whole mad business of living. And yet, nothing Sarandon says is remotely funny, touching, or true.

Watching the funeral guests collapsing in fits of tear-stained laughter as she tells a totally bizarre but never humorous anecdote about a neighbor’s erection, Elizabethtown becomes like Brecht or Godard. The spectator feels utterly divorced from what the characters in the film seem to be experiencing given that they are witnessing the same exact onscreen events that you are.

Take it from me, I love you!

The same effect occurs throughout, as in its two overlong mix-tapey montages which are meant to demonstrate Drew falling in love with Claire, Kirsten’s Dunst’s “kooky” good girl, a flight attendant he met on the way there. We know they’re falling in love because the soundtrack and editing tells us so, but it doesn’t reflect any real feelings we get from the dull characters or choppy contextless dialogue. Josh Schwartz’s TV shows also do this.

acting out Bob Dylan covers in alternate virtual realities is the height of spontaneous romance am I rite?

Crowe’s fetish for quirky stewardesses seemed less weird somehow when Zooey Deschanel played one in Almost Famous. Here it feels forced, patently unreal, faker than Dunst’s Southern accent. The implausible dream girl naturally has no life of her own, preferring to spend her time bonding in late night gab seshes with Bloom like a sugared up preteen who just got her first cell phone.

an entire generation of Cinderellas and no glass slipper.

When she’s not showing up suddenly to encourage our incredibly passive hero with broad blank platitudes about life, she is making him creepy scrapbooks and ten volume mix-tapes to take on his road-trip through the South back to his home. She is in no way an actual human She is merely a collection of quotes and clothes and half-baked Amélie quirks. She could be a blogger persona.

“OMG NO WAI! That’s MY favorite band too!”

In short, Crowe’s girls are not so much people as they are a fantasy every-girl who will be utterly consumed in The Nice Guy’s problems without ever presenting any conflicts of her own. They exist solely to validate his existence, and in actual life they just plain don’t exist. They are as real as a Real Doll. A harmless male fantasy that is not really harmless at all, just as harmful as encouraging women to think that someday their prince will come.

Lloyd Dobler = The Original Trenchcoat Mafia

In Say Anything, the best moments (besides Jeremy Piven’s) all belong to Lili Taylor’s character, Lloyd’s jilted misanthrope of a female best friend who wants to spend the graduation party singing all the songs she wrote about her ex. In some alternate better movie, she’d get involved with John Cusack’s character instead of the bland, charismaless Diane Court.

Corey Flood = The Female Duckie

Elizabethtown also contains the seedling of a better unmade movie, one that would be about the hometown best friend character played by Paul Schneider (of disputably emosogynist classic All The Real Girls) and his father, played by Rufus-sirer/songsmith/Apatow rep player Loudon Wainwright III.

Paul Schneider: All The Real Sideburns

The relationship between these two characters, Loudon’s insistence to his son that one cannot be both parent and friend to one’s kids and Schneider’s attempts to prove him wrong by acting as peer to his own young child, provides the few sparks that the movie manages to generate. One wishes the film were about them, instead of Bloom and Dunst, whose dialogue and soundtrack-propelled no-mance are like reading a Tumblr feed.

Some Inane Inspirational Quotes From “Claire”

“Men see things in a box, and women see them in a round room.”

“I’m hard to remember, but I’m impossible to forget.”

“I want you to get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that’s happened.”

“I’m completely cool with anything you want to say or not say.”

“I mean everybody’s got to take a road trip, at least once in their lives. Just you and some music.”

“Sadness is easier because it’s surrender. I say make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”

“Some music needs air. Roll down your window.”

Claire Colburn: I think I’ve been asleep most of my life.
Drew Baylor: Me too.

Drew Baylor: I see you right there. I see you right there.
Claire Colburn: There you are.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls here.

vanityfair

“Snowy Atlas Mountains” – Fionn Regan (mp3)

“Put A Penny in the Slot” – Fionn Regan (mp3)

“The Cowshed” – Fionn Regan (mp3)

fionn-regan

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING:

The Romantic Comedy Of Equals

Annie Hall Is About Saudade

The Battle Of The Sexies

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30 thoughts on “In Which This Recording Is Your Favorite Romantic Comedy

  1. Spot on. This is also why Almost Famous does work for me. The girl gets to break down in the end from the weight of trying to be the magical creature, and our young lead gets to learn from it. And the lead is so young he is more naive and misguided than set in his ways or trying to be a jerk.

  2. I have deja-vu’d this comment before. I was at the Berlin premiere of the so-bad-I-didn’t-know-where-to-look (certainly not at the screen) Elizabethtown and Dunst was there, even drunker than Crowe was i-know-it’s-bad-but-you’re-all-zeroes smug (and drunk).

    Anyway, the non-slut (sexless) girl in a Cameron Crowe film is like a non-white in a Wim Wenders film (or a lead animal in Disney): the white boy’s cosmic nanny. In other words, white boys are *that* important.

    Re: Almost Famous: a good friend of the late Lester Bangs told me he tried to advise Crowe on the Bangs character but Crowe shrugged it off. Realizing, of course, that nobody would notice the diff. And the wind cried Tiny Dancer.

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