Elizabethtown – Vancouver Straight

Crowe Mines Family for Film

LOS ANGELES-You may not have met her, but Cameron Crowe has made sure that generations of moviegoers will love his mother. Crowe has written two semiautobiographical films and added elements of his mom to the mother characters. And like any good son in his position, he didn’t compromise when he went out to cast the roles.

Frances McDormand, an Oscar winner for Fargo, played the mother in 2000’s Almost Famous, which was loosely based on Crowe’s experiences as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone. In Elizabethtown, which opens Friday (October 14), the mother of a character whose journey resembles another story from Crowe’s life is played by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon.

The film stars Orlando Bloom as Drew Baylor, a young shoe designer who is fired from his job on the same day that his father dies. Suicidal, he heads to his father’s hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to bring back the body. On the plane, he meets a quirky flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who gives him her number and tells him to phone if he needs to talk to someone. When he finally calls, he discovers a best friend.

In the interview room of a Los Angeles hotel, Crowe says that he feels comfortable when he is rewriting his life for the movies. “All writing in one way or another becomes personal,” he explains. “What I wanted to do with Elizabethtown was to put those personal experiences into a story of a person who is on a journey.…I loved the idea of movies like Being There and Harold and Maude, where the main character is wandering through his life, even though he hasn’t really inhabited it yet.

“When I started this out, I sort of said to myself that it would be a tribute to my dad and that it would be set in his home state of Kentucky. I wanted it to be rooted in the experiences that I remembered having to go to Kentucky to deal with the funeral and having been walloped by a family that looked sort of like me. But how do they know so much about you? Well, ‘This is your blood,’ as my cousin said to me when I got to Kentucky. I knew that I wanted to put that in the movie. I also wanted to have an angel who appears in an unlikely setting and guides him [Drew] on his journey. I didn’t meet a flight attendant on the flight to Louisville, but the point was that somehow through a crisis you are able to feel more alive by opening up to new possibilities.”

In the film, Sarandon’s character has a difficult time dealing with the sudden passing of her husband. She takes cooking and tap-dancing lessons, and eventually ends up going to a comedy club to find out how to be funny. Crowe says that he and his sister weren’t happy when their own mother, who currently lives in White Rock, decided to alter her life after the death of their father.

“All of the things that are in the movie, in terms of what the character does, happened in real life. My mother learned how to tap-dance and took all kinds of lessons, but it was the comedy lessons from the local comedy club that really threw us. None of the family members could believe what she was doing. She had a video and she would say, ‘Here is a video of my standup routine,’ and my sister and I would look at each other and say, ‘She is out there in a world where people are seeing our mother, in grief, doing standup.’

“What didn’t happen in the movie and did happen in real life was that they kicked her out of comedy class. They said, ‘You aren’t funny and you should be home crying, because it is obvious that you are not dealing with this well’.…She just went out and found a different comedy club and took a different comedy class and did it for two weeks. She worked up a routine about Lady Di, among other things, and it ended with a tap dance. Then one day she looked around the class and realized what the first teacher had told her was true, that she wasn’t that funny. But she really appreciated these people helping her get through a tough time. She phoned me up and said, ‘I am ready to get on with my life now,’ and she went home.”

Courtesy of the Vancouver Straight – Ian Caddell – October 13, 2005