The ads for the 1969 film, Easy Rider carried the line: A Man went looking for America
and couldnt find it anywhere. In Cameron Crowes Elizabethtown, the reverse is true for its principal character who, after the worst day of his life, rediscovers family, friends, love - and, ultimately, during a cross-country road trip, the landscape itself.
Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a genius designer of athletic shoes for a company in Oregon but his career crumbles when his new masterpiece is a monumental disaster, which - as Drews boss, Phil (Alec Baldwin) remarks - is so bad that it will probably convince people to go barefoot again. The calamity costs the company close to one billion dollars and Drew, not surprisingly, gets the boot. Now that he is no longer the golden-haired boy, he also loses his girlfriend, Ellen (Jessica Biel). So Drew goes home and prepares an elaborate suicide involving a very large knife and his exercise machine. Could things get any worse? Yes. Drew then receives a telephone call from his sister, Heather (Judy Greer) who tells him that their father, Mitch, has died while visiting relatives in his family home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Drews mother, Hollie (Susan Sarandon) instructs him to go to Kentucky and bring home Mitchs ashes.
Determined to resume his interrupted departure from the world when he returns, Drew flies to Kentucky and begins a journey in which he will learn how to survive. It begins in a near-empty plane in which he receives the exclusive attention of an overwhelmingly perky and talkative flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who leaves him her name and telephone number before they part.
Driving through the streets of Elizabethtown, Drew finds that the entire population seems to know who he is as they direct him towards the welcoming arms of his large family. Drew discovers how much his father was loved and how there is some resentment of his mother for taking Mitch away from them to California albeit for only a brief time. (She redeems herself in their eyes later during a memorial service for Mitch when, in a self-deprecating comic routine, she tells them about her life without him).
As Drew gets to know his family and become part of it again, he also finds himself re-establishing contact with the irresistible Claire, firstly in a mammoth phone call that is one of the films highlights. Claire helps Drew navigate his way through this strange new land and prepares him for a future that she convinces him need not be so bleak. For his trip home with his fathers ashes, she presents him with a comprehensive map of the route he will take, supplemented with hours of music (this is a Cameron Crowe film - there's lots of music) and detailed instructions about what he must see on the way. Its during this Americana sequence that Drews rescue becomes complete - almost. A fork in the road allows Claire the opportunity to offer Drew a final choice of the direction his life will take.