Crowe’s screenplay for the film of this title is the tale of one young man’s journey into the past in an attempt to define his future and change the direction of his life. Learning the hard way the cost of success, Drew Baylor has just engineered an extraordinary fiasco: the colossal failure of his athletic shoe design disgraces the Mercury Shoe Company.
After eight years spent on what should have been a revolutionary design, the shoes have hit the market like a bomb, truckload after truckload returned to the company for refund. Drew’s only recourse is to fall on his sword lest the company be forced to declare bankruptcy. As he leaves his job, his whole world has changed from a dream to a nightmare. Even his girlfriend, another Mercury employee, turns her back on Drew, opting for the greener pastures of a new hire. Drew is devastated but resigned.
Convinced that his world could not get any bleaker, Drew receives a phone call from his distressed sister: their father has died and their mother is falling apart, throwing herself into all manner of busyness to avoid the terrible loss she faces. It has been decided that Drew must go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and bring his father home to Oregon. There is the question of the disposal of the body. The Southern Baylors want a formal burial in the family plot; Drew’s mother demands cremation and her husband’s return to their home in Oregon.
A befuddled Drew is befriended on the airplane by an enthusiastic stewardess, Claire Colburn, who intrudes upon his reminiscences in her efforts to connect with this interesting passenger. Caught up in a family melodrama and completely out of his depth, Drew has no idea that Claire offers the means of his salvation, her insouciant approach to life a balm to his increasingly troubled spirit. Drew’s damaged sense of self senses a new perspective, a journey that will alter his direction through life.
Crowe gives detailed stage directions, building the rhythm of Drew’s dilemma, contrasting the tensions of the funeral and the young man’s need for a time-out from family pressures. The problem is that the story doesn’t have resonance: the scattered scenes of family interactions over the disposition of the body, Drew’s too-intense-too-soon relationship with Claire, his lack of connection to his father or the Kentucky relatives, all are as disconnected as overheard conversations (a la Robert Altman), without inciting sufficient interest in these people or the increasingly talkative Drew and Claire.
Unfortunately, the author’s intensely personal experience just doesn’t translate into a meaningful story. Drew’s awakening from his dark night of the soul fails to speak a universal language, especially as it hardly ruffles the surface of his self-centeredness. Crowe includes a few pages of an on-site diary from shooting the film. However admirable Crowe’s intentions, this cross between Southern high drama and whimsical love affair fails to inspire.