Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nothing To Crowe About

I was asked about 5 years ago who my idol was. This was in church, so I’m sure people were expecting me to say Jesus or Paul or Ammon or some other scriptural figure. My answer was actually Cameron Crowe. To me, no one’s career has mirrored my exact hopes and dreams like his.

Some background. He starts out writing for Rolling Stone at 15. Eventually writes the book Fast Times At Ridgemont High, then the movie. After it’s a success, he’s given carte blanche to begin writing and directing his screenplays, which have become some of the most beloved American films of the last 25 years including Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Not only are these films great, but they tap into the psyche of a generation, often putting words to thoughts that we all have but can’t articulate. He’s both smart and emotional and wears his interests on his sleeve (rock music, sports, girls, sex and rock music). He’s also married to a rock star (Nancy Wilson of Heart), an author (“Conversations With Wilder”) and an Oscar winner (Almost Famous). Yep, that’s the life right there. Cure cancer and you’re done.

However, around 2001 things started to come off the rails. That was the year Vanilla Sky came out. The remake of a Spanish film about a rich, womanizer starring Tom Cruise, who may or may not be dying after a car crash and being haunted by delusions, was a severe misstep. It made money and some applauded it’s daring, but it was so far removed from the “Crowe Style” that it left many fans confused, disappointed and lost.

So, he comes back with Elizabethtown which, if you can imagine, might be worse. With a flaccid lead performance by Orlando Bloom, “Etown”, not only stunk, it failed to make any money, making for his first big bomb (Almost Famous had been a financial disappointment, but was critically praised universally). From what I’ve read, the crush of “Etown” left him confused, disappointed and lost as well. If you check his website, it says he’s currently working on his next screenplay, but there is no sign anywhere as to what it is or how close he is to finishing it. My feeling is, he’s completely lost his mojo.

Which brings me to the real problem, which is that the “Crowe Style” has been improved upon by Judd Apatow. Like Nirvana did to bands like Poison, the “Apatow Style” of Peter Pan-like slackers smoking pot, hanging out and watching porn featured in films like 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, and Pineapple Express speaks to this generation in a way that makes Crowe seem dated and out of style. Since the Crowe business model was already beginning to lapse, all signs point now that the one-time voice of a generation may be on the brink of irrelevancy.

What’s funny is that Crowe’s Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn in “Fast Times”, is the blueprint for the modern day versions like Seth Rogan in Knocked Up. Seth could even be the grown up version of Curtis, Jeff’s little brother (“Dad says you better get up, you butthole!”). Still, the sad fact is Cameron is not likely to regain his former perceptive wit and writing because of a lack of confidence and, even if he was close, people don’t talk like him anymore. They’ve been dumbed down, yet enlightened. They know more and think less. This is not Crowe’s world. Adolescence will never change and always remain the ugliest part of life, but the way we talk about it will continue to evolve. Cameron Crowe may not be able to rejoin the conversation and, sadly, without anything profound to say, his films suffer mightily.


Marilyn said...

"They’ve been dumbed down, yet enlightened. They know more and think less." Great lines, Jon.
I hope CC can recover his mojo and be relevant again. Vanilla Sky seemed to be one of the down-turning points in Tom Cruise's life, too, from which he hasn't recovered either. Fame is so fleeting, and the more you have, the harder the fall.

RR said...

But Jon... consider what we just learned in Rolling Stone mag about "Big Lebowski."

He could come back.