Drew Baylor (Bloom) is on top of the world. He just designed a shoe for a Nike Expy. It's expected to be a huge hit. His family is proud of him. He has a beautiful girlfriend (Jessica Biel). Obviously, it doesn't last. In fact, the audience doesn't even get to see any of his success, because the film opens with Drew's firing. His shoe bombed. It's being recalled, and the company is losing millions of dollars. So many millions that you could round it off to a Billion. His girlfriend dumps him. His career is flushed down the toilet. What's left? Suicide, of course!
But before he can off himself (though not before he's given away all his possessions on the street corner), he gets a call from his sister (Judy Greer), informing him that their father has died while visiting his relatives in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Both Drew's mom (Susan Sarandon) and his sister are far too emotional to deal with the situation. They call on him to arrange the funeral and cremation. So Drew's plans for suicide are put on hold as he flies off to Kentucky to meet with his family.
On the plane, Drew meets a quirky flight attendant named Claire (Dunst). Though he doesn't tell her his problems, she senses something is amiss and strikes up a conversation with him. They talk briefly on the plane, and she leaves him with her phone number. Drew thinks nothing of it until he actually gets to Elizabethtown, and has to deal with his family and his father's remains. In emotional turmoil, he reaches out to Claire and the two strike up a connection.
The movie is supposedly based on director Cameron Crowe's own life. It also, rather oddly, features Food Network TV chef Paula Deen as Drew's aunt.
The film provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion: The picture on the mantelpiece is from Stepmom, another Susan Sarandon film.
- Alliterative Name: Claire Colburn.
- Black Comedy: The jokes and references to suicide drift into this territory."...and get back on that bike!"
- Brick Joke: "DID I MISS 60-B!?!?!" Yes he did, and he finds it on the way OUT of Elizabethtown.
- Boy Meets Girl
- Catchphrase: "Chuck and Cindy. Loving life, loving you!"
- Death Trap: Notably, Drew builds one of these for himself, out of an exercise bike and a large steak knife. And duct tape.
- Driven to Suicide: Drew at the start of the film.
- Dysfunctional Family: Most of the dysfunction comes from the extended family towards the "California Baylors" (though they're really from Oregon).
- Also, there's a side plot about father-son relationships in the family. It's a recurring theme.
- Eccentric Townsfolk: And most of them are related to Drew!
- Epic Fail: Oh yes, in fact the page quote does a decent job or describing the difference between this trope and a regular failure.
- As it happened, this movie bombed at the box office, and was the very first film examined in Nathan Rabin's ongoing series of columns for The Onion A.V. Club, "My Year of Flops". It also helped Rabin define his rating system for the films: Secret Success, Failure, and Fiasco, with Elizabethtown being the first to fall in the latter category.
- It should be noted that upon returning to the film for a second viewing, Nathan Rabin actually fell in love with it, and recorded this as the final article in "My Year of Flops" when he published it as a book.
- In-Universe, the damn shoes. All billion-dollar waste of them. Even if the film absolutely refuses to tell us why they failed so epically.
- Extreme Doormat: Claire describes herself as one with regards to her boyfriend Ben.
- Fake Band: Ruckus, played by real-life Kentucky band My Morning Jacket.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Or at the memorial, at least. Drew's mother took stand-up comedy lessons and proceeds to share funny anecdotes. Then the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band strikes up a tune, only to send the whole place up in flames.
- At the actual funeral, the mechanism used to lower Mitch's coffin (which contains only his blue suit, since he was already cremated) malfunctions for a bit, eliciting a chuckle from Drew's mom.
- Girlfriend in Canada: It's unclear whether Claire's boyfriend Ben can't get away from his work or just doesn't exist.
- Good Ol' Boy: Most of the Kentucky Baylor clan.
- Happy Ending: Yes.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Claire's off-screen boyfriend, who probably doesn't even exist.
- It Always Rains at Funerals: Actually a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as an unexpected rainstorm hit the day they were going to shoot this scene, and director Cameron Crowe decided to shoot anyway since he thought it looked beautiful.
- Interrupted Suicide: Drew's, at the beginning of the film, due to his sister calling him.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The aforementioned A.V. Club review gave the trope its name in reference to Claire, describing her as "Dunst's psychotically chipper waitress in the sky".
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: The poster for Ruckus's only live performance indicates their name at the very bottom-right corner. Jesse still brags about (almost) getting to play with "Lynyrd fuckin' Skynyrd... We never played, and we never played since."
- Narrator: Drew. Claire also includes some narration in the mix CDs she tells Drew to play on his road trip.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever the heck caused Drew's shoes to be recalled.
- Product Placement: Kentucky-made soft drink Ale-8-One makes a couple of appearances.
- Road Trip Plot: The latter part of the movie develops into this, as Drew wanders around in a trip designed by Claire for him to reminisce best times with the ashes of his father, release them in a dramatically appropriate time and place, give himself a few seconds to hate himself over the damn shoes one last time, and meet her in a flea market.
- Riddle for the Ages: So why the hell were the damn shoes recalled? All that it is ever exposed is that it's such a hard-core Epic Fail that it made the news (and not in a good way, with a critic even saying that "it will make a whole generation go back to walking bare-footed"), it cost the company $972 million, it got Drew fired and made him suicidally depressed pretty much overnight. And that is it. Lots of information regarding the aftermath, but the reason is never given.
- Running Gag:
- The Kentucky Baylors think Drew's family is from California, when they're actually from Oregon. Drew himself makes the same mistake later in the film."And that's the decision from California! ...Shit. Oregon! We really are from Oregon!"
- Drew and his "last looks"
- Claire taking snapshots with her imaginary camera.
- The Kentucky Baylors think Drew's family is from California, when they're actually from Oregon. Drew himself makes the same mistake later in the film.
- Scenery Porn: Particularly towards the last half of the movie, while Drew takes his road trip.
- Truth in Television: Despite some comments by people to the contrary, Claire's pronunciation of "Louisville" is accurate. It is most commonly pronounced "Loo-uh-vuhl".
- Unable to Cry: Drew, for most of the movie, until he reminisces about his father in the middle of his road trip.