"I'm fine," is the only outward response Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) gives to his co-workers as he heads to the boss's office, fully aware of the fate awaiting him there. Once a promising employee of the major footwear manufacturer, the young designer knows the failure of his high-tech shoe and the almost one billion dollars it has cost the company, mean more than just "he's fired." The fiasco also translates into public humiliation. That is why he has decided to go home and kill himself before the press reveals the whole sorry affair to a global audience.
But his elaborate suicide plan is foiled by the ringing of his cell phone. On the other end of the line is his distraught sister (Judy Greer). Unaware of his crisis or dire intentions, the crying woman stammers some incoherent information about the unexpected passing of their father while visiting in his hometown. Because their unstable mother is in a state of shock, Heather gives Drew the assignment of taking Dad's best blue suit out to Elizabethtown KY, attending his memorial service and returning with the deceased man's ashes.
Dutifully, the responsible son agrees, postponing his appointment with death until after he has finished with the funeral. All the same, he has a lot on his mind as he boards the plane that will take him from Oregon to Kentucky, and very little appreciation for a perky flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who won't stop chattering throughout their long hours together in the air. Nor has he any plans to follow her helpful, detailed directions for navigating the highway exits (even though Claire is a local of the area) or to use her telephone number in the event he gets lost.
However, after an exhausting drive down many wrong turns, meeting estranged relatives, discovering his hotel is host to a horde of drunken patrons attending a wedding, and having all his calls routed to answering machines, the need to talk to someone is stronger than he can resist. In desperation Drew dials Claire's number and soon discovers the comfort of confiding in a complete stranger.
Over the next few days while he sorts out aunts, uncles, and cousins, arguments over cremation verses burial, and his own feelings of regret about the dad he really never knew, the ever-optimistic Claire drops into his life to offer no-strings-attached support. With each kindly gesture, the melancholy Drew gets more and more tangled up in her quiet charm--still, he has not forgotten the impending announcement or the black promise he made to himself.
Elizabethtown is a feel-good journey of self-discovery. Yet the script, like the character it portrays, takes a few futile detours in the process of finding itself. Most of these occur while pursuing plotlines involving dysfunctional family members. Presumably thrown in for laughs, these ill-fitting meanderings contribute nothing logical to the story and tend to pull the main message off track--especially the scene featuring the farewell remarks of Drew's mother. Played by Susan Sarandon, the eulogy she delivers comes across more like a stand-up comedy routine with some crass comments. Other diversions include strong profanities, sexual innuendo, a scene where an unmarried couple sleeps together (it is unclear if any other nocturnal activities took place) and ample alcohol consumption.
Where this movie really shines in its depiction of the romantic relationship. Claire's compassion and listening ear act like constant rays of sunshine. Not only do they penetrate Drew's dark depression and closed heart, they also shed light on what constitutes important priorities and inspire a bright hope in believing it is never too late to change things. After spending a couple hours in her cheery company, even the audience will have a hard time not feeling a little better about life--no mater how bleak its present prospects.