Life is a Road Trip: An Analysis of “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. That is, until he takes a chance that fails and destroys everything. After being fired by his boss Phil Devoss (Alec Baldwin), he decides to end his life. Suddenly, he receives a call. His sister, Heather (Judy Greer) tells him that their father Mitch (Tim Devitt) has passed away. His father’s death, his family and an unexpected stranger (Dunst) changes his life for the btter. It’s when he learns to let go that he rediscovers himself.

Take the wheel.  Author.

Perhaps it’s just my taste, but a lot of films I enjoy 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 a poor performance. Personally, I think they equally did great jobs. Until this film, I had not seen either of them in these types of roles. Additionally, the plot is fairly simple, and some people prefer more action. If that was the case, the critical viewers 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 of famous historical icons and events. He 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 with his family, especially on his dad: “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. By 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 Dale (Loudon Snowden Wainwright III) treats his cousin, Jessie (Paul Schneider). Drew shows his nephew Samson a behavioral video which helps him in the way Uncle Dale wants, 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 Dale. It’s a meaningful way that Drew contributes to his family and society; a way 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. His career has left him with a seller’s point of view. He has spent all of his energy trying to please others in order to achieve the success he had. Once that can no longer benefit him, he is lost. Of course, he is going to be uncomfortable and still fake a lot of his personality. It’s Claire who really inspires him to become his authentic self.

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; she is used to the chaos of flying; however, Claire wants someone to give her stability in a relationship. When she visits Drew at the hotel, where Chuck (Jed Rees) and Cindy (Emily Kernan Rutherfurd) are celebrating their wedding, she envies that 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 are, he gives her the security she was looking for.

Claire: Do you ever think, “I’m fooling everyone?”

Drew: You have no idea.

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; the other half, she is simply a sweet person afraid of getting hurt. Claire and Drew are both struggling in their own ways, and it’s part of what makes the story work.

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 been the parent who tries to hold everything together, but when Mitch passes, she loses control. For a while, she is a mess. In the end, she learns to embrace her new journey as a widow, and her self-esteem grows. Through losing the love of her life, she realizes she wasn’t truly living. She enjoys the experience of learning new things that she has never needed to worry about. This new love for knowledge inspires her to take classes for activities she always wanted to know how to do, but never tried. In a way, she becomes more like her husband.

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.

“If it wasn’t this…it’d be something else.”


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?

© 2015, 2023 social thoughts

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