Directed by George Hickenlooper
Screenplay by Phillip Jayson Lasker
With Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger, Julianna Margulies,
Olivia Williams, James Coburn, Anjelica Huston and Michael
Rated R, 106 minutes. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films
There's a fun satire of writers, literary ambition and the
publishing industry folded in among the stylish but rather
dull film The Man from Elysian Fields. For those willing
to sift through the layers, rewards include a few excellent
performances (James Coburn and Anjelica Huston, no surprise,
and Mick Jagger, surprise!). Elysian Fields also boasts
strong visuals: there's a real sense of how different the
atmosphere can be in the home of a fabulously rich person
and a struggling, not-quite-poor one; credit to director George
Hickenlooper and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau.
The film's story concerns Byron Tiller (Andy Garcia), whose
first novel has rocketed to the remainder bin in record time.
Struggling to support his family (loving, supportive, sexy
wife Julianna Margulies and a toddler-age son named Nathaniel
Hawthorne Tiller - trés literary), he works his way
down, or sideways, to male escort, working for the Elysian
Now, a lot of writers consider themselves whores of one kind
or another (I know I've felt like a working girl on more than
one occasion), but really, there had to have been a few more
job options open to an able-bodied guy. Of course, Tiller
is himself being seduced: first by high-cheekboned, highly
amused Luther Fox (Jagger), who runs Elysian Fields, and then
by his first client (lovely Olivia Williams). She plays the
young wife of immensely famous, multiple-Pulitzer-Prize winning
novelist Tobias Alcott (Coburn, in full Norman Mailer-Ernest
Tiller quickly moves from servicing Alcott's wife - with
the husband's knowledge and bemused approval, by the way -
to, in effect, servicing Alcott himself: criticizing, editing
and eventually rewriting Alcott's book. High-priced gigolo
becomes high-priced ghostwriter, and the irony is that the
latter proves much harder on Tiller's soul, and his marriage,
than the former.
We're never really told whether Tiller's book is any good,
or whether he's actually a good writer or a lucky hack. Part
of the funny/sad aspect of Elysian Fields is that in
some sense it doesn't matter: it's all about the packaging.
The film itself feels overstuffed without really being filling,
despite the fun of the performances of Coburn, Jagger, and
Michael Des Barres as a world-weary, acid-tongued fellow gigolo.
The threat to Tiller's marriage from his new job(s) takes
up a good chunk of film time, but despite Julianna Margulies'
fine work as his wife, there really doesn't seem to be all
that much at stake. In fact, the film is fairly dismissive
of most of its females, treating them only slightly better
than the rich-bitch clients who use the Elysian Fields agency.
Another issue is the blank at the center of the screen in
the person of Andy Garcia. Here's somebody that has had the
bad career luck to share screen time with Dustin Hoffman in
full bag-lady, focus-sucking mode (Hero), as well as
with actors like George Clooney and Julia Roberts, who make
even preposterous situations look effortless (Ocean's Eleven).
Hell, he was even out-acted by that mop of blond ringlets
Meg Ryan (When A Man Loves a Woman). His underplaying
works nicely against Coburn's full-throttle hamminess and
Jagger's silky ennui, but he's really too dull to carry off
the rest of the story. Coburn's recent passing makes his appearance
here unintentionally even more moving - he was giving his
all in what turned out to be his final role, that of a dying
Elysian Fields is far from terrible, but it's ultimately
more about the surfaces than the depths of a writer's soul
or the torment of a failed marriage. Those surfaces - especially
the different kinds of frustration endured by Jagger's and
Coburn's characters - are interesting, but there's not enough
of them, and too much of Garcia's unassuming blandness.