The Man From Elysian Fields
review by Elias Savada, 18 October 2002
Director George Hickenlooper still
hasn't made a film as good as his best documentary, 1991's Hearts
of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, the brilliant piece
demystifying Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now that he
co-wrote and co-directed by Fax Bahr. Or as fine as his best
fictional piece Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, the short
that inspired Billy Bob Thornton's Oscar-winning feature. His
current effort may be as sleek as his sold-to-cable indie feature
The Big Brass Ring, based on an unfilmed screenplay by Orson
Welles, but The Man From Elysian Fields is a cold, bliss-less
work that groans along thinking itself some important comment on how
life throws us some beguiling curves. It's actually nothing more
than a mildly amusing business proposition surrounded by creaky
Andy Garcia is the topliner,
portraying Byron Tiller, a Pasadena dad, husband, and
never-really-successful novelist who can't even sell a
remainder-priced, soon-to-be-autographed edition of his book
Hitler's Child to an seemingly interested bystander at the local
Rizzoli's. (Perhaps humorist Dave Barry -- if he dared spend time
watching this film -- is wondering, as he often does, whether
Hitler's Child would be a great name for a rock group.) However,
it's aging rocker Mick Jagger who struts out on stage and absolutely
steals the spotlight, what little there is that shines here. As
debonair businessman Luther Fox (and the film's slight narrator),
he's the story's immoral center, a reptilian creature of habit
camouflaged in fancy designer threads and caressed by cigarette
smoke. No, he's not the CEO of Enron, but the world weary owner of a
male escort business, Elysian Fields, Inc. He's a snake and a
charmer, and he's got an eye on the good-looking Byron, who's seedy
Hollywood office is right down the hall from Elysian's Room 507 and
just around the corner from a sea of trouble.
The harried Byron, still convinced
that he's got the great American novel locked up inside him, is
adored by his supportive, beautiful wife Dena (ER's Julianna
Margulies), who admires his brain possibly as much as his expertise
under the bed sheets. She has so much faith in her spouse that I
half expected her to set up a tent outside their apartment and start
a revival meeting.
Hallelujah, BYRON, Hallelujah!
Sorry for the digression, but the
morning coffee just kicked in.
With a baby son going through more
disposal diapers than can be stocked at the local Costco, those
pesky rent and car payments being missed, and Dena's rich, obnoxious
construction-magnate father unwilling to loan his son-in-law a
thousand bucks or an ounce of respect, these are trying times for
the struggling author. And doesn't he look it! He drives a wreck of
a VW bug, his hair is greasy and flops, uncombed, down over his
forehead. He's got stubble on his face, and that sad puppy look
drives the point home.
So when his snobby Little, Brown
editor flat-out rejects his latest book for being overtly symbolic,
instead of telling wifey the truth, he starts spinning the Big Lie.
That his book has been optioned, that the Book-of-the-Month people
are interested, and that all will be well in the world. As luck, and
screenwriter Philip Jayson Lasker tells us, opportunity arrives in
the impeccably dressed Luther, who fawns on Byron that he is also a
fan of his work (A side note/question mark on the screenwriter. The
publicity material indicates Lasker has written at least five other
scripts, none yet produced, including one for Tom Cruise based on
the screenwriter's novel Identity Crisis, identified as
having been published by Putnam. A visit to the Library of Congress,
Amazon, ebay, Penguin Putnam, and Copyright Office websites divulge
no such book. Maybe I should have looked under Hitler's Child?).
Armed with Luther's business card
(with an actual phone number-323-460-6409; don't bother, it's
disconnected), the kind you know someone's wife is bound to discover
in a jacket pocket, Byron joins the escort corps of "cocker spaniels
with hard-ons" and is soon servicing thirty-four-year-old Andrea
Alcott (Rushmore's Olivia Williams), the decades-younger wife
of dying triple-Pulitzer Prize winning author Tobias (James Coburn).
This IS California, after all, and this couple has one of those
cordial "open" relationships. The dour Byron finds "tending to the
wounds of lonely women" hard to write up on his resume, so he
instead offers his help rewriting Tobias' last great novel, a
rambling 800-page manuscript on the Roman Empire several steps down
from his earlier efforts (apparently not even close to his Whores
of Babylon -- or is that the name of a rock band?).
Where does this all lead? Well
Luther wants to get out of the biz and settle down with Jennifer
Adler (Anjelica Huston), his only "personal" client who married for
money and plans to stay that way. Byron gets shafted from both ends,
digs down deep within his soul and….
Oh God, yes, it's one of those
clean-shaven, smartly dressed, hair-in-place endings.
Philip Jayson Lasker
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult