Untitled Document It’s a rare actor who seems infinitely more at ease playing a blonde Middle-Earth archer-elf than a modern man searching for meaning in his life. And it’s a rarer filmmaker who can still create a terrific film with a soggy lead performance. Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown is a gem, even though Orlando Bloom fails to shine.

Crowe may be the best in cinema at crafting the humorous semi-fictional memoir. His masterwork Almost Famous charts his beginnings as a rock journalist following the famous and writing for Rolling Stone, all at the tender age of 15. Now he channels his return to his hometown after his father’s death. Add in Bloom as the amalgamated cinematic Crowe (here as "Drew Baylor"), some wild family members and an anti-romance romance with stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst), and you have Elizabethtown.

The only slip that keeps Elizabethtown out of the class of Almost Famous is that the dynamic central performance of Famous, the utterly mesmerizing, effortless turn by Patrick Fugit, is severely lacking here. Bloom is constantly uncomfortable – he knows the beats, but for much of the film he just adds stock expressions to an empty deadpan. He has some charm, but it’s directed at no one in particular. Most films would wallow with Bloom, but it’s a profound testament to Crowe’s abilities, and those of the terrific supporting cast, that they still manage to deliver such a fine end product.

The incisive and lyrical script by Crowe crafts a magical mix of depression, loss, hope and rebirth. Elizabethtown, Ky., comes alive with the genuine warmth of a long-overdue homecoming – for Drew, for Crowe and for us. Rebounding well from a slow middle third, Elizabethtown gains steam during a remarkable eulogy delivered by Drew’s mother Hollie (Susan Sarandon) and blasts through to its delightful finale with a moving road trip shared by Drew and his cremated father, his ashes spread across the heartland.

As always, music-mad Crowe provides a knockout soundtrack featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Elton John, My Morning Jacket and The Hollies, among many others.

The film isn’t perfect, it’s overlong and uneven, but when it hits, it really works. Crowe’s a modern master in finding the extraordinary in everything.

Grade: A-