when you take a long road trip and call it a pilgrimage…. to kentucky.
As I said in my post about our visit to Louisville, it all started in 2006-ish, back in the high school days of band practice, flip phones, and Blockbuster video stores. My sister Amy and I discovered the movie Elizabethtown in a discount DVD pile, and before we knew it, we were soon hooked on its charming characters, impeccable one-liners, and Southern whimsy. Not to mention a stellar soundtrack.
Elizabethtown is a 2005 romantic-drama-comedy by Cameron Crowe, the guy who directed Jerry McGuire and Almost Famous (and more recently, the show Roadies on Starz). We LOVE Elizabethtown.
Admittedly, Elizabethtown has not generally received great reviews. IMDB gave it 6.4/10 stars, Rotten Tomatoes scored it a whopping 28%, and on the rare chance that I meet someone who has seen it, they usually end up confessing that they fell asleep halfway through.
You have to be a certain type of person to appreciate the magic of Elizabethtown.
“There are only a few movies that make you think about your life and where it’s going long after walking out of the theater. Elizabethtown is one of those films for me.”
Elizabethtown! Elizabethtown!: an obsession develops
It’s hard to describe exactly what it is about Elizabethtown that has allowed the relatively under-the-radar flick to dig itself so deeply into the most permanent corners of our souls.
This article from Entertainment Weekly celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Elizabethtown puts it into words better than I ever could. In the article, Camerone Crowe talks of how the producers “dug deep to capture the warmth of that Cicada-filled summer we spent in and around Louisville.”
“It’s a tip of the hat to tradition, to family heroes,” Cameron wrote, “and to those roller-coaster summers when life shows itself in all its indelible pain and glory.”
Amy and I very much agree with these sentiments – the movie is filled to brim with warmth and tradition and so SO MUCH heart and soul and and nostalgia and sweet regret. Just-missed opportunities. Missing people. Summertime sadness. Elizabethtown nailed summertime sadness before Lana Del Rey was even a sparkle in the music industry’s eye.
“I’d like to dedicate this anniversary to the fans who have found this movie over the years and reached out to say they understood it,” Crowe wrote on his website ten years after Elizabethtown hit theaters. We understand it, Cam! We really really really understand it!
Our pilgrimage to Elizabethtown
After years of saying that someday we’d make the journey to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to immerse ourselves in the places that Drew and Claire and Mitch once walked, we decided this was the year – and we made the the journey. It was Memorial Day weekend, and so late on Thursday afternoon, we left Philly and rode off into the hazy late May sunset. We drove to Pittsburgh, slept, and spent the first half of the next day driving through forgettable Ohio until we hit the glory land – KENTUCKY! At last!
There were a few spots from the movie we HAD. TO. SEE.
Cave Hill Cemetery
The first spot was Cave Hill Cemetery, because this scene in the movie was filmed in/it is actually located in Louisville. More on our adventures in this esteemed national cemetery can be found HERE!
Otter Creek Park
After spending our first night down south camping near Louisville and betting on horses at Churchill Downs in true Kentuckian fashion, we made our way to Elizabethtown… but not without making a minor detour and stopping at Otter Creek Park.
This spot was unmissable. In the movie, it is where Drew and Claire meet up at 5:00am after talking on the phone all night long (“I think that’s what THEY say!”) and determine that it’s “probably easier to just stay up at this point.” They meet up, walk out to this great ledge overlooking the Ohio River and Indiana in the distance, and sit there in silence.
“We peaked on the phone.”
Guys, it’s CLASSIC.
That’s Indiana over there!!! Amy and I did not peak on the phone. In fact, we hardly ever stop talking
The Saturday afternoon that we first arrived in our mecca happened to be Elizabethtown’s BBG Blues & Bikes Festival – imagine hundreds of motorcycles lining the streets, the smell of barbecue sauce and smoked meat and fried pickles in the air, and a bluesy band playing faintly in the distance under a tent. People-watching was entertainment in itself – men in leather vests and long ponytails and jeans and riding boots, women in way-too-short shorts and spaghetti straps and cowboy boots, smoking cigarettes. On top of all this, it was raining.
SO, the pictures I’m choosing to share are from the following morning, when we swung back through Elizabethtown on our way to Mammoth Cave National Park, when the streets were clear and the sky was sunny.
We walked past the historic State Theater and reminisced on…
Claire: “Oh, come on! I don’t need an ice cream cone.”
Drew: “It’s not an ice cream cone. What’s an ice cream cone?”
Claire: “You know. ‘Here’s a little something to make you happy.’ Something sweet that melts in five minutes.”
Why YES, this IS the sign outside the radio station that said “We Miss You, Mitch!” in Elizabethtown. Good catch.
Claire: “You are always trying to break up with me, and we’re not even together.”
Drew: “…We’re not?”
We also hung out in Vibe Coffee both days we were in Elizabethtown. Highly recommended.
The road trip itself
Even though we didn’t get to drive through Tennessee and Arkansas and Oklahoma and follow in the path of Drew on his solo road trip, we did go on our own road trip. And that in itself was our own little tribute to Elizabethtown. (I would like to go to Eureka Springs someday though… it sounds magical.) (I visited The Survivor Tree last October on my way from Colorado to Dallas.)
Our favorite Elizabethtown quotes
“Some music needs air. Roll down your window.” (my personal favorite…. simple, true, perfect)
“So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.”
“Sadness is easier because its surrender. I say make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
“No true fiasco ever began as a quest for mere adequacy. A motto of the British Special Air Force is: ‘Those who risk, win.’ A single green vine shoot is able to grow through cement. The Pacific Northwestern salmon beats itself bloody on it’s quest to travel hundreds of miles upstream against the current, with a single purpose, sex of course, but also… life.”
“To have never taken a solitary road trip across country? I mean everybody’s got to take a road trip, at least once in their lives. Just you and some music.”
“Did I miss 60B?” (YA HAD TO BE THERE)
“I want you to get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that’s happened.”
Drew: “Beautiful night, does it ever cool off?”
Jessie: “No, this time of year its hotter than the hinges of hell, we got stars though…” (wait – this might be my personal favorite. or at least a close second. no, it’s a tie)
You should really watch & love Elizabethtown
I’ve been trying to work on something internally – and it’s to really block out the bad stuff that people sometimes say. Over the past few years, there have been plenty of instances that I found myself sad or disappointed or angry because of 1) whatever had just happened, and 2) how people were reacting to it.
Sometimes I get so worked up, because from my perspective, people can just be so so so frustratingly DENSE, and I wish I could just shake them and be like, “WAKE UP! WHY CAN’T YOU SEE THINGS THE SENSIBLE, RATIONAL, CORRECT WAY LIKE ME??? YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!” But everyone deserves to have their own opinions, even if they’re super dumb. I guess.
From massive scandals at your alma mater to presidential elections to Elizabethtown – people will always have differing opinions, and people are always going to say mean things. I’ve seen people go as far as saying Elizabethtown was the worst movie they’ve ever seen. WORST! As in… NO OTHER MOVIE HAS BEEN AS BAD AS THIS ONE.
My rebuttal to that outrageous claim is this article on why Elizabethtown deserves a second look and why it could actually be considered “sheer brilliance” (can you tell I’ve done a lot of extra reading on this flick? Hell yeah I have. Because this flick is amazing).
I encourage anyone who’s gotten this far in this blog post to read the entire article, before or after watching Elizabethtown, but here are some excerpts I especially love:
“The film’s final 15 or so minutes, the road trip sequence, is maybe the best thing he’s ever done.
It’s amazing Drew’s legs still work, having sat at his console for so long, but he’s persuaded to drive (with his father’s urn strapped into the passenger seat) back home and make stops through the Kentucky they call “God’s country,” as well as Memphis. It’s magical realism: Bloom and Dunst narrate, and we are supposed to believe that she has timed her series of mix CDs to each quarter-mile perfectly — and coordinated “Pride (In the Name of Love)” to play just as wide-eyed, now fully-liberated Drew scatters parts of his dad in front of the Lorraine Motel Civil Rights Museum. And you will. Had this sequence alone been released today as a digital short, it probably would have been nominated for an Oscar. But as it is, it’s the last pre-MP3, pre-GPS romantic road trip film sequence, probably for all time. Any attempt to recreate it would have to be a period piece. I say it’s stunning, maybe because I, like Crowe, wish someone would do something like that for me…
…This isn’t a romance between the lost boy and his Manic Pixie Dream Girl; it’s Crowe’s own romance with America, not Hollywood. It’s his Lou Reed-ian chomping on the hand that bred, fed and awarded him.
…in an age of all-Marvel-everything hits, we need our frustrating, intriguing fiascos.”
Final thoughts and feelings and stuff
And so that’s that. After 10 years of watching and loving, we made our pilgrimage, and it was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. I don’t know if I’ll ever have an opportunity to return to Kentucky, but I hope so. In the meantime, I’ll just keep watching Elizabethtown once or twice a year and listen to My Morning Jacket and Ryan Adams and all the other good tunes from its soundtracks on future road trips of my own.
In the words of Claire Colburn (in classic, enthusiastic, over-the-top melodramatic Claire Colburn fashion), “We are intrepid. We carry on.”