Film

The Man From Elysian Fields (2001)

Jesse Hassenger

Despite much swirling and swooping of the camera, it winds up looking like a moderately well directed TV movie.


The Man from Elysian Fields

Director: George Hickenlooper
Cast: Andy Garcia, James Coburn, Olivia Williams, Mick Jagger, Julianna Marguiles
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2003-03-18

The Man From Elysian Fields, now on DVD, is the sort of movie some people will call "literate." The film is variously about writing, sexual manners, commitment, and self-respect, and it is certainly literate, in that the characters have done lot of reading and so, presumably, have the filmmakers.

But the result is neither an intelligent tribute to writers and their words, like Shakespeare in Love (1998), nor a thought-provoking mediation on writing and life, like Adaptation (2002). Though it's a small, independent movie, it has the contrivances and heavy-handedness often associated with big studio Oscar bait. The movie is heartfelt and pretty, but it's hard to really believe in the characters or situations. It achieves a sort of tasteful artifice in place of genuine artistry.

As Byron, Andy Garcia is this quality personified; alternately wearing and ditching his glasses with heavy-handed symbolism, he looks like a generic (if earnest) Hollywood impersonation of a writer. A struggling novelist, he has written an unsuccessful first novel, and cannot sell his follow-up work. It is a measure of the film's muddled execution that we are never sure about many of its details, whether Byron's name is an intentional reference to (or an ironic joke about) Byronic heroes, for example, or how we might feel about Byron's writing (it's never clear if he's a hack or a struggling talent).

Desperate to support his wife (Julianna Marguiles) and child, Byron finds work at a male escort service called Elysian Fields. Soon, he is sleeping with Andrea (Olivia Williams), wife of renowned, dying author Tobias Alcott (James Coburn), and co-writing Alcott's final work. Byron is still growing as a writer and a person, while Alcott is reaching the end of his life, and career. Complications ensue.

Films about writers and writing are nothing if not complicated to write, to stage, to act without turning dull or self-indulgent. There have been a few good ones recently -- Wonder Boys and Almost Famous (both 2000), and Adaptation -- but these movies revel in the neurotic specificity of their subjects' muddled lives and works. Elysian Fields seems to be aiming for this level of insight, but its screenplay, by Phillip Jayson Lasker, misses its mark throughout. It is written with care, but not particular skill.

While it includes comic undertones, the script has a habit of wandering into philosophical territory, as when a funny conversation between Byron and Tobias about ducks morphs into a clichéd lament about the grandeur of eagles. Coburn in particular is marooned by these lurches into sentimentality; sometimes, when dispensing cantankerous grandfatherly wisdom to Byron, he begins to sound like that "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen" song.

The cast member best served, surprisingly, is Mick Jagger, playing Luther Fox, the head of Elysian Fields with quietly dapper charm. Even as he keeps popping up from out of nowhere, like Chris Walken in Nick of Time, Jagger's scenes are the best in the movie, wry and faintly regretful. Luther Fox belongs in another, sadder and funnier movie.

Jagger and the rest of the movie do look handsome on DVD. Maybe too handsome. The widescreen transfer highlights its glossy lushness, which seems vaguely out of place for the subject matter. It's a nice-looking movie, but also generic; despite much swirling and swooping of the camera, Fields winds up looking like a moderately well directed TV movie. The enhanced sound of DVD also highlights an overbearing score that alternates between soapiness and indie-movie piano bits. The commentary track includes Hickenlooper, Lasker, and Garcia, but this isn't the sort of movie that inspires repeated viewing.

In fact, The Man From Elysian Fields is sort of like a novel you don't mind reading, and then never think about again. "You've got to learn to listen for adjectives," Luther advises Byron at one point, a clever line that is thoroughly applicable here: The film is literate, but not good.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.