After a departure into more difficult, experimental content with "Vanilla Sky," writer/director Cameron Crowe is back with his trademark fare in "Elizabethtown."
It's a story heavily inspired by Crowe's own trip back to Kentucky for his father's funeral, and it has the same feel-good mass appeal as hits "Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire."
"Elizabethtown" is like a mix of those two films, because the young Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) loses everything like Jerry Maguire and comes of age like William, the young rock journalist in "Almost Famous."
The themes of coming of age and dealing with success - or a lack of it - color most of Crowe's films, from "Say Anything" to "Elizabethtown."
"I hope at some point all of the movies that I have been able to do fit together as some kind of common portrait of what it was to be alive right now, and that would be a cool thing to have to leave behind," Crowe said in a phone interview last week.
Just as typical as Crowe's recurring themes is an abundance of music. Good music.
"This one arrived filled with music as an idea, and I was
listening to a lot of music when the idea first came to me," Crowe said. "I was listening to a lot of Ryan Adams and Patty Griffin, Tom Petty, American soul and a lot of My Morning Jacket."
Almost every scene in Hollywood films is accompanied by some music or scoring, but Crowe tries to make sure you get more than a small piece of the song.
"You almost diminish some songs by using them particularly incorrectly," Crowe said. "So I just try and do justice and let the song play as much as possible so that it is not just thrown away."
Music means so much to his films that he uses it during auditions. The director is known for filming close-ups of actors' expressions and playing certain songs over them to see how it feels.
For "Elizabethtown," Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom earn most of the screen time. While Dunst is a natural fit for this kind romantic comedy, Bloom isn't exactly known for playing an everyman.
"Usually you look around and you see the guys who have sort of done a part like that and none of them, as great as some of those guys are as actors, none of them felt as fresh to me as Orlando playing the kind of stranger in the strange land," Crowe explained. "Also, I like the challenge of bringing him into our current century for a role."
After some negative buzz swarmed over the film following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September, Crowe went back to the editing room and cut 20 minutes off the film. While it's still more than two hours, Crowe hopes the shortened cut will resonate with the average American - as he says it did at test screenings.
"Some people would come out and say, 'Hey, that was a nice movie,' but other people would come out and say, 'You know, I am canceling what I am doing this next week and I am driving home and I am going to spend some time at home and see my parents.'"
"Elizabethtown" opens tomorrow in theaters everywhere.