The new Cameron Crowe movie, a romantic comedy starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, has drawn a mixed reception at a Venice film festival more enthralled by the special effects wizardry of Terry Gilliam's fantasy epic The Brothers Grimm.
Crowe's sentimental comedy Elizabethtown is overlong at two hours and 13 minutes, but grows on you, mainly thanks to a rich soundtrack of American roots music.
Bloom's character Drew Baylor, a hitherto successful sports shoe designer, is branded a failure when his latest design flops and he prepares to kill himself when things get worse. Then his father dies.
"I sort of wanted to make a comment on the obsession with success and failure that we see so often in America. But what happens is that life comes along and trumps that with a matter of real life and death," Crowe said at a press conference in Venice.
The director of Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky uses tears and laughter to relate Drew's journey back to the Kentucky heartland for the funeral, along the way beginning a romance with Clair, an irritatingly-optimistic air hostess played by Dunst.
But it is music that really makes the film tick, as former Rolling Stone writer Crowe uses a non-stop soundtrack of modern American roots music to drive it along.
"Music is such an inspiration to me," Crowe said. "I love it when it completes a story and helps you understand it in your heart and soul.
"I was fortunate to work with actors who loved music too. Just seeing what it would do to their manner and their faces was great and it helped give the story a little more soul."
"Cameron really uses music as a tool," said Bloom, who starred opposite Brad Pitt in Troy. "He would often play a piece of music just before a take to set the mood."
Drew, whose father's funeral leads to an encounter with extended family in the Kentucky town of the title, learns to purge his sorrow and love life again on a road trip back to the east coast with his father's ashes.
"I liked the idea of beginning the movie with death, because you sort of say well, where do we go from here. I think the only answer is life, and that's the ending of my movie," said Crowe.
"I wanted you to get out of the movie and see an opportunity that you may not have seen a couple of hours earlier, before you saw the film," he added.
The film's show-stopping performance comes from Susan Sarandon, who plays Drew's mother. Always unpopular with her in-laws, she tap dances and jokes her way into their hearts to the tune of Moon River at her husband's memorial bash in the film's best scene.
"I loved doing that long scene," said Sarandon. "It was a really challenging set piece," but she carried it off, getting a standing ovation from some critics at the festival press conference.
Too bad that audiences have to wait around 90 minutes to reach that part, something that contributed to some of the jeers at the end of the only movie at Venice that could be just as enjoyably experienced with your eyes closed.
Meanwhile Monica Bellucci, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger star in Gilliam's very free adaptation of Grimm's celebrated fairytales, whose Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel have enthralled children for 200 years.
Gilliam's all-action film has Damon and Ledger as the brothers, cynical Will and Jacob the dreamer, and Bellucci as an evil queen who lives to be 500, with looks to match.