Review: ‘One True Loves’ (2023), starring Phillipa Soo, Simu Liu and Luke Bracey

April 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Phillipa Soo and Simu Liu in “One True Loves” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue)

“One True Loves” (2023)

Directed by Andy Fickman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Massachusetts, Maine, and California, over the course of 17 years, the comedy/drama film “One True Loves” features a white and Asian cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four years after her husband goes missing in a helicopter crash and is declared dead, a woman gets engaged to a man who was her best friend in childhood, but then the missing husband shows up and expects to continued his married life with the woman. 

Culture Audience: “One True Loves” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the book on which the movie is based, and will appeal to people who like very corny love stories where people act unrealistically.

Phillipa Soo and Luke Bracey in “One True Loves” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue)

“One True Loves” is a disappointing, missed opportunity to turn a popular book into a classic romantic comedy/drama movie. The principal cast members do their best in their attempts to make this story convincing, but they are undercut by screenwriting and direction that make this sappy film look like the cinematic equivalent of a cheap and often-unrealistic romance novel. The “One True Loves” movie (which is based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2016 novel of the same name) fails to balance the comedy and drama, which results in the film having an off-kilter and awkward tone.

Directed by Andy Finkman, “One True Loves” has a screenplay co-written by Jenkins Reid and her husband, Alex J. Reid. A few elements of the movie’s story are based on Jenkins Reid’s own life. (She’s from Acton, Massachusetts, where most of the story takes place.) This movie is an example of how people who are too close to the source material sometimes aren’t the best people to adapt the source material into a movie screenplay. Although “One True Loves” has its charming moments, thanks largely to the talent of the principal cast members, so much of the movie looks too phony to have the intended impact.

Another problem with the “One True Loves” movie is the jumbled narrative. There are several flashbacks, and some of them aren’t very well-placed. In addition, the characters in the love triangle, who are supposed to be in their 30s for most of the movie, often act like the immature teenagers they are in a few of the movie’s flashbacks. It’s all very grating. And it further lowers the quality of what could have been a more meaningful and relatable film about adults.

“One True Love” begins with a flashback to a nighttime house party attended by high-school-age teenagers in Acton, Massachusetts. Emma Blair (played by Oona Yaffe) and her best friend Sam Lee (played by Phinehas Yoon) are standing by themselves and looking kind of like outcasts. Emma and Sam are in the backyard, near the swimming pool, where athletic and good-looking Jesse Lerner (played by Cooper van Grootel) is emerging from the pool. Jesse is a star of the school’s male swimming team.

Emma has a big crush on Jesse and is ogling his toned body as he walks out of the pool. It’s later revealed that Sam has been in love with Emma for years, but she has kept him in the “friend zone,” and he has been afraid to tell her his true romantic feelings. Sam sees Emma leering at Jesse. Sam responds by saying in a sulking voice, “It’s really not fair that he throws around his swimming skills at a party.”

The party gets broken up by police. Most of the teenagers scatter, but Emma and Jesse are arrested for underage drinking. At the police station, Jesse flirts a little with Emma, who is awestruck and flattered that he’s paying attention to her. It doesn’t take long for Emma to let Jesse know that she wants to date him. What happens in the Sam/Emma/Jesse love triangle then jumps back and forth in time in the movie.

The next thing that viewers see is 15 years after this party, Emma (played by Phillipa Soo) and Sam (played by Simu Liu) are living together and have gotten engaged. Emma and Sam are happily celebrating the engagement with a small family get-together at the home of Emma’s parents. Emma’s relatives at this gathering are her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband. Sam’s family members are not seen or mentioned in the film.

Emma’s parents—mild-mannered father Colin (played by Michael O’Keefe) and talkative mother Ann (played by Lauren Tom)—own a local bookstore called Blair Books. Now a retired couple, Emma’s parents have passed on operation of the bookstore to Emma and her sister Marie (played by Michaela Conlin), who has a Type-A, perfectionist personality. Marie and her quiet husband Michael (played Tom Everett Scott) have a daughter who’s about 6 or 7 years old named Sophie (played by Oceana Matsumoto), who happens to be deaf.

When Emma was a teenager, she told Jesse that she had no interest in taking over the family bookstore when her parents retire. She wanted to travel and see the world. Flashbacks show that after high school, Emma became a travel journalist, Jesse (played by Luke Bracey) became a travel photographer, and they worked together on adventurous travel assignments that took them around the world. They were blissfully in love, got married, and lived in Venice, California.

But then, a tragedy happened. Jesse was in a helicopter that crashed over the Pacific Ocean. There were three people in the helicopter, including the pilot. Jesse was the only person whose body wasn’t found after an extensive search. Jesse was eventually declared legally dead. Emma didn’t want to believe he was dead, but she gave up hope after practical-minded Marie convinced her to move on with her life.

A depressed Emma had a hard time coping with her grief. Flashbacks show that after years of not being in contact with Sam, she happened to see him in a music instrument store. Sam is now a music teacher at the same high school where he, Emma and Jesse were students. Sam and Emma reconnected, a romance began between them, and they got engaged. But four years after Jesse disappeared, Jesse has been found. Jesse comes back to Acton, and he’s expecting his marriage to Emma to continue in the way that it was.

All this timeline jumping does a disservice to the story in the movie, which answers some questions too late and doesn’t answer some questions at all. It isn’t shown until the last third of the movie how the romance developed between Sam and Emma. The courtship of Sam and Emma should have been in the movie much earlier, to give viewers better context for why she fell in love with him.

Because “One True Loves” shows too early in the movie that Sam and Emma have settled into a life where they got engaged, it makes it too easy to figure out how this movie is going to end. A better-written movie would have shown everything in chronological order. It would have made the movie more suspenseful and less obvious about what Emma’s choice will be. “One True Loves” tries to make up for this scrambled timeline by doing a lot of exposition regurgitation, where characters give verbal summaries of things that were already seen in flashbacks.

But there are other big problems with this movie. When Emma gets the call that Jesse has been found, her reaction looks completely phony. She doesn’t ask anything about how he was found, where he was for all these years, and if he’s okay. Yes, she could have been in shock, but these are the questions that someone would ask about a loved one who was missing for years and presumed dead. Viewers don’t find out where Jesse was for the past four years until it’s mentioned later in the movie: He was stranded on a deserted island.

Emma’s reunion with Jesse also looks fake. He’s dropped off at his parents’ house, with no mention of how Jesse was found or if he needed any medical treatment after being stuck on a deserted island for four years. Realistically, a bunch of media people are waiting outside the house. Jesse’s mother Francine (played by Beth Broderick), Jesse’s father Joe (played by Gary Hudson) and Emma are also outside, in anticipation of Jesse’s return.

But then, the scene looks unrealistic again when Emma and Jesse go inside his parents’ house. Jesse and Emma sob and hug, but she still doesn’t ask a lot of basic questions that someone would ask a spouse who’s been missing for four years. All the drippy emotions that are overloaded in this reunion scene would have had a better impact if the filmmakers put more realism in the movie.

And speaking of destroying realism, the filmmakers make Sam look pathetic in multiple scenes where he uses his orchestra class as a way to have personal therapy sessions for himself. Instead of teaching his students, he pours out his angst and insecurities over the decision that Emma has to make in choosing between him and Jesse. What’s so idiotic about these scenes is that Sam brushes off journalists who want to interview him because he says he’s a “private person,” but he inappropriately dumps details about his love life on his underage students, as if these students wouldn’t blab and gossip about it to other people.

Sam’s students egg him on, because they want to hear all the soap opera-ish details of this love triangle. And can you blame the students for doing that? No. It’s a distraction from doing any work in the classroom. It’s really up to the adult teacher in the classroom to set boundaries, but Sam doesn’t set those boundaries. He’s more concerned about getting as many people as possible to feel sorry for him and root for him. It’s supposed to be the “comedy” part of the movie, but it just looks weird and idiotic.

How bad are these classroom “therapy” scenes? When the school bell rings for the students to go to their next class, the students say that they want to stay and listen to more of Sam’s self-pitying sob stories. And he says they can stay. Eventually, some teachers are seen in the classroom because they want to listen to Sam’s sob stories too. It’s just more moronic filmmaking on display. “One True Loves” also has a very unfunny recurring gag about Sam’s cell phone getting cracked because he keeps throwing the phone in anger and frustration.

At no point in time does “One True Loves” show Sam, Jesse or Emma seeking professional counseling from adults or getting free support from their loved ones about this big disruption in their lives. Sam, Jesse and Emma also don’t seem to have any friends to turn to during this very unusual love triangle situation. And that detail doesn’t match up with the scene of Emma and Jesse’s wedding, where there were plenty of people in attendance, and presumably not all of them were family members.

Instead, what viewers will see in “One True Loves” are tedious scenes of Emma being “torn between two lovers” and feeling guilty about having to choose one over the other. The movie has some heartfelt scenes, such as when Emma and Jesse take a getaway trip to Maine at the remote cabin where they had their honeymoon. Soo and Bracey do some of their best acting in the movie in these Maine scenes. (“One True Loves” was actually filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.)

The courtship scenes of Emma and Sam are cute, but very lightweight. Liu has potential as a romantic leading actor with very good comedic timing. He also has impressive singing and songwriting talent: He co-wrote and performed the movie’s end-credits ballad “Don’t.” It’s too bad that this movie makes the Sam character look like the most immature and most pitiful of the three characters in this love triangle.

Emma and Marie had an argumentative sibling rivalry when they were younger. This rivalry is mentioned several times but is never really given much depth, although there is an attempt in a flashback scene where Jesse has been missing for several weeks. Emma is in California, on a building rooftop near the Pacific Ocean, while she is using binoculars to look for Jesse. It’s the scene where Marie arrives and tells Emma to stop looking for Jesse because he’s probably dead.

Although this scene is meant to be the movie’s biggest heart-to-heart moment between Emma and Marie, observant viewers will be distracted by the questions that this scene brings up. Why does Emma think that using binoculars would be enough to search for Jesse in an ocean? And why does Emma think that she can see him from this particular rooftop? Emma tells Marie that because Jesse was a champion swimmer, if he’s alive, Emma is sure he’ll find a way to swim back to Emma.

Just because Emma is this stupid doesn’t mean that the filmmakers of “One True Loves” have to treat viewers as this stupid. The cast members can have as much charisma as they want, but when the filmmakers have such disrespect for the average viewer who would be interested in this type of movie, there’s no redeeming it or excusing it. “One True Loves” is like a suitor who tries to come across as romantic, but is in fact very pandering and condescending. People who value their time and intelligence just don’t need that in their lives.

The Avenue will release “One True Loves” in select U.S. cinemas on April 7, 2023. A one-night-only sneak preview was held in select U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2023. The movie will be released on digital on April 14, 2023, and on VOD on April 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Maybe I Do,’ starring Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Emma Roberts, Luke Bracey and William H. Macy

February 5, 2023

by Carla Hay

Richard Gere, Diane Keaton, William H. Macy and Susan Sarandon in “Maybe I Do” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Maybe I Do”

Directed by Michael Jacobs

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy/drama film “Maybe I Do” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman pressures her boyfriend to propose marriage to her, while their married parents have extramarital encounters with each other. 

Culture Audience: “Maybe I Do” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headlining stars and don’t mind watching all this talent wasted in a dull and unimaginative movie.

Susan Sarandon, Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey in “Maybe I Do” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Maybe I Do” should be titled “Maybe You Don’t Want to Watch This Slow-Moving Train Wreck That’s a Waste of Time and Talent.” Everything about the dreadfully boring romantic dramedy “Maybe I Do” looks forced, fake and awkward. The principal cast members just recite their awful dialogue (often stiffly) and never look convincing as couples. And there’s nothing romantic at all about this movie, unless you think it’s romantic to watch people in miserable marriages and a constantly whining woman threatening to break up with her boyfriend unless he proposes marriage to her. That’s essentially what viewers will see for about 80% of “Maybe I Do,” which has too much mindless repetition and not enough character development.

Written and directed by Michael Jacobs, “Maybe I Do” is based on a play that Jacobs wrote. The movie had the potential to be a witty look at an unlikely but not entirely impossible situation: Two unhappily married couples, who are strangers to each other, step outside their respective marriages by spending intimate time with the other couple’s spouses. Unbeknownst to these four spouses, one of the couple’s son is dating the other couple’s daughter. And when all six of them meet each other for the first time, it becomes a landmine of secrets, lies and pent-up resentment that could potentially destroy relationships.

This entire concept is already revealed in the trailer for “Maybe I Do,” which takes an excruciatingly long time to get to the very disappointing moment when the four spouses and their two children are in the same room together for the first time. Until then, “Maybe I Do” drags on and on with cringeworthy, unrealistic dialogue and painfully unfunny scenarios. Most of the principal cast members look like they have no emotional investment in their characters and only showed up for this movie for their salaries. Whatever they were paid for “Maybe I Do,” it wasn’t worth the embarrassment of being in this flop that most viewers will forget soon after seeing it.

“Maybe I Do” (which takes place in New York City, but the movie was actually filmed in New Jersey) begins by showing a sensitive sad sack named Sam (played by William H. Macy) , who is crying while watching a romantic movie in a nearly empty movie theater. Sam is by himself and has a quirk of putting candy, such as M&Ms and red licorice, on his popcorn to eat with the popcorn. (Don’t ask why, because the movie never bothers explaining this quirk.) Also in the movie theater is Grace (played by Diane Keaton), who sitting nearby and is also by herself. Sam and Grace are in their 70s.

Grace notices that Sam is crying, so she goes over to this stranger to comfort him. Grace strikes up a conversation with him in this theater (and apparently not caring that it’s very rude to talk in a movie theater when the movie is playing), and she finds out that they are both “distressed” and like to go to movies alone. It’s the first of many eye-rolling scenes in “Maybe I Do,” which is polluted with overly contrived scenarios that look very phony.

The next time Grace and Sam are seen together a few scenes later, it’s the same day that they’ve met. At this point, Sam and Grace have decided they’re going to spend some time together in a motel room, after changing their minds about it once. Sam says he just wants to “talk” in the motel room, and Grace nervously agrees.

They both know that they are unhappily married to other people. It’s an example of the movie’s sloppy writing and terrible editing to not show the conversation that Sam and Grace had about their marriages before they decided to get a motel room together. As far as viewers can see, one minute Sam and Grace have met. The next minute, Sam and Grace are getting a motel room together and feeling guilty about it. Viewers eventually find out if anything sexual happens between Sam and Grace in that motel room.

In the motel room, Grace and Sam sit on a bed together and turn on the TV. And what do you know: Porn just happens to be playing on the channel at that very moment. Grace, who is uptight and very sheltered, looks at the sex scene on TV, and she comments to Sam with amazement: “That’s how they do that?”

Grace and Sam eventually turn off the TV because what they’re watching is making them uncomfortable, as if they couldn’t possibly turn the channel and watch something else. It’s supposed to be a funny moment in the movie, but it just makes Grace look pathetic that she’s willfully ignorant about sex at this point in her married life. It should come as no surprise to viewers that Grace’s husband is cheating on her.

Grace’s husband is brash and arrogant Howard (played by Richard Gere), who is having a secret affair with materialistic and demanding Monica (played by Susan Sarandon), who is married to Sam. Howard and Monica are first seen in “Maybe I Do” while they are in a hotel bedroom, where Monica is trying to get sexually intimate with Howard, but he’s not interested. In fact, Howard wants to end this affair with Monica, but she still wants the affair to continue.

Here are some examples of the dull and trite lines of dialogue that Howard utters during this tryst with Monica: “Are we living our best lives? And also, what are we doing here?” The stars of “Maybe I Do” probably thought the same things while making this obvious dud of a movie.

Later, Howard says to Monica: “This is about leading the lives we have, to have the lives we deserve. It’s incredible to me you’ve been able to turn a one-night stand into something that it’s taken me four months to get out of.”

Monica gets upset when Howard tells her that he wants to end this four-month affair. She angrily tells him, “You walk out that door, and I’m going to figure out a way to get you back. I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to push that button, and you’re going to cease to exist.” Who talks that way? Only someone in a horribly written movie, or someone who thinks the world works like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

Meanwhile, the movie eventually reveals that Howard and Grace have a daughter named Michelle (played by Emma Roberts), while Sam and Monica have a son named Allen (played by Luke Bracey), who are having their own relationship problems. Michelle and Allen, who are in their early 30s, have been dating each other for a period of time that is never detailed in the movie.

However, they’ve been dating long enough for Michelle (who is very pouty and very bratty) to feel like her relationship with Allen needs to become a marriage. Allen (who is very laid-back and very bland) is in no rush to get married and likes the relationship exactly as it is now. Michelle issues an ultimatum to Allen: Tell her that he wants them to eventually get married, or she will break up with him.

This ultimatum comes after Michelle and Allen attend the wedding of Michelle’s best friend Sophia (played by Natalie Ortega), because this wedding triggers Michelle even more into wanting to get married. Michelle and Allen have a big argument during and after the wedding because of a stunt that Allen pulled at the ceremony. During the part of the ceremony where the bride throws her bouquet to the single women gathered to catch the bouquet (and whoever catches the bouquet is supposed to be the next one in the group to get married), Allen impulsively jumps above the women and catches the bouquet himself.

Why? Because he knew that Michelle was expecting to catch the bouquet, and he didn’t want her to use it as an excuse to pressure him to get married. Allen’s stupid plan backfires, because Michelle gets so angry at this stunt (which she calls the “most humiliating” experience of her life), she refuses to let Allen touch her until he decides if their relationship will lead to marriage.

And she gives him one day to decide. This is how she moronically gives this deadline: “This is my heart. This is my mind. All of it can be yours if you call within the next 24 hours. Operators are standing by.” Again: Who talks like that? And who would want to be married to someone who talks like that?

There’s a slightly misogynistic tone to “Maybe I Do,” which portrays all three women as mostly to blame for why the men feel miserable and trapped in these couple relationships. And they are some of the worst negative stereotypes for women: Michelle is a nagging shrew. Grace is a judgmental prude. Monica is a selfish manipulator.

Sam is portrayed as the most sympathetic person of the six main characters, because he is starved for love and affection but is constantly rejected by Monica. Sam laments to Grace that Monica “hates him,” and he’s grown to “hate” Monica too. The movie makes it look like Sam has been trying to make his marriage work with Monica, but she has been cruelly dismissive to Sam. Meanwhile, “Maybe I Do” makes it abundantly clear that Grace’s hangups about sex are what probably drove Howard to cheat on her.

“Maybe I Do” writer/director Jacobs could have done so many more interesting things with these characters, but he resorts to using lazy stereotypes of characters that these principal cast members have played versions of before in many other movies. Having two Oscar winners (Keaton and Sarandon) in the movie’s cast doesn’t mean much when they are further typecast in hollow roles. Jacobs, who created the TV comedy series “Boy Meets World” (which was on the air from 1993 to 2000), brings a stale sitcom tone to the movie, including have a corny musical score that’s sounds like it came from an outdated sitcom. In other words, don’t expect anything new, fresh and exciting in “Maybe I Do,” which clumsily lumbers along until its very predictable and uninspired end.

Vertical Entertainment released “Maybe I Do” in U.S. cinemas on January 27, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on February 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Elvis’ (2022), starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks

June 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Austin Butler in “Elvis” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Elvis” (2022)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1946 to 1977, in various parts of the United States and briefly in Germany, the dramatic film “Elvis” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy in this biopic of superstar entertainer Elvis Presley.

Culture Clash: Presley had many personal battles in his life, including those related to racial segregation, his drug addiction, his doomed marriage to Priscilla Presley and his troubled relationship with manager Colonel Tom Parker. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Elvis Presley fans, “Elvis” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and music biopics that go big on spectacle-like filmmaking.

Austin Butler, Helen Thomson, Tom Hanks and Richard Roxburgh in “Elvis” (Photo by Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The vibrant biopic “Elvis” continues filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s pattern of making a protagonist’s life story look like a manic-energy carnival. The musical numbers are fantastic, but viewers should expect a very glossy version of Elvis Presley’s life. Luhrmann directed and co-wrote “Elvis,” and he is one of the movie’s producers. People who are familiar with Luhrmann’s previous movies (including 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!” and 2013’s “The Great Gatsby”) will already know that he isn’t a filmmaker known for being miniminalist or showing restraint.

Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” just like Elvis Presley, is a mass of contradictions but can be counted on to deliver spectacular performances on stage. Even with a total running time of 159 minutes, “Elvis” leaves out or fast-forwards through many important aspects of Presley’s life. But other parts of the movie drag with repetition and linger too long in scenes where the story should have already moved on to something else. Luhrmann co-wrote the “Elvis” screenplay with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner. The movie was filmed in Luhrmann’s native Australia.

At times, this “Elvis” movie looks like a lengthy music video, with enough quick cuts to give some viewers the cinematic version of whiplash. Other times, “Elvis” attempts to get into the more serious and emotionally complex areas of Presley’s life before zipping off into one of several whirling-dervish montages that fill up this movie. It’s a change of pace and tone that might be off-putting to some viewers who are looking for a more conventional way of telling the story.

For example, the courtship and marriage of Elvis and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (played by Olivia DeJonge) are very rushed into the story and aren’t given a lot of depth. The movie leaves out the fact that in real life, when Elvis began dating Priscilla in 1959, she was 14 and he was 24. They met when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany, where Priscilla’s U.S. Air Force stepfather was also stationed at the time.

In real life, Elvis also convinced Priscilla’s parents to let her move in with him when she was still an underage teen. It’s probably not a coincidence that Priscilla is portrayed by an actress who never looks underage. That’s because bringing up possible stautory rape in connection to Elvis would ruin the movie’s intention to make him look like a superstar who was exploited by a greedy and corrupt manager.

Sometimes, the actors give performances that look like impersonations, while in other scenes, the actors seem to truly embody their characters. This dictonomy is especially true for Austin Butler (who portrays the adult Elvis Presley) and Tom Hanks (who plays manager Colonel Tom Parker), whose love/hate business partnership is the movie’s central conflict. Their best scenes are those where they look the most natural and don’t try to overdo the “larger than life” aspects of their respective characters’ personalities.

Butler’s performance is much better in the scenes depicting Elvis in the last 10 years of his life, when Elvis’ health was on a steady decline due to his drug addiction. (Elvis died of a heart attack in 1977, at the age of 42.) In the scenes of Elvis’ adult years before he became famous and during his fame from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s, Butler just looks like he’s doing a competent Elvis impersonation. The movie starts to improve considerably when Butler shows more emotional depth as the sweaty, “hooked on drugs” version of Elvis, because it’s a portrayal of man who’s on a downward spiral but still desperately trying to stay on top.

Elvis’ controlling manager Parker, whose real name was Andreas Cornelis (Dries) van Kuijk, was born in the Netherlands, but he pretended for years that he was born and raised in the United States. In real life, Parker (who died in 1997, at the age of 87) hid his true identity and undocumented immigrant status. This deception is in the movie, but as a plot twist reveal that will not surprise anyone who knows about Parker, or anyone who notices Hanks’ very over-the-top European accent in the movie. There are parts of the movie where Hanks’ prosthetic makeup and his Dutch-like accent are very distracting. Hanks’ accent also sometimes sounds German and sometimes sounds like a Western European trying to sound American.

In real life, when Parker was Elvis’ manager, Parker did not have a heavy European accent, as portrayed in this movie. Parker had a very believable American accent in real life. How else would he have been able to fool so many people into thinking that he was a born-and-raised American if he had a European accent? This quasi-European accent is one of the characteristics of Parker that this “Elvis” movie gets wrong.

Because so much of Elvis’ life has already been dissected and depicted in many other ways (including Elvis impersonators becoming both a cottage industry and the butt of a lot of jokes), Luhrmann’s “Elvis” at least takes a unique approach of telling this story with narration from Parker. The movie’s opening scene shows Parker collapsing from a heart attack and taken to a hospital. During this narration, Parker repeatedly says versions of this statement: “Without me, there would be no Elvis Presley. And yet, there are some who would make me the villain of this here story.”

Elvis’ childhood gets a comic-book panel treatment (literally) in this “Elvis” movie, as the movie uses comic book panels and comic-book-type illustrations to show chapter transitions in Elvis’ youth. Born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Aaron Presley is portrayed as someone who was influenced from an early age by music, particularly R&B and gospel music. Elvis had a twin brother named Jessie Garon Presley, who was stillborn. The film briefly mentions the death of Elvis’ twin brother, but the movie does not explore (as other biographies have done) how Elvis was haunted by this death.

Elvis was famously a “mama’s boy” who worshipped his mother Gladys (played by Helen Thomson), who was a strong-willed and dominant force in his life. Elvis’ father Vernon (played by Richard Roxburgh) is portrayed as someone who was often overshadowed by Gladys in Elvis’ eyes. However, Vernon still had a huge influence on Elvis, especially after Parker decided that Vernon should be Elvis’ business manager.

It was a ultimately not a good decision, considering that Vernon had trouble keeping a steady job up until that point, Vernon had no experience as a successful businessperson, and Elvis experienced major financial problems in the years leading up to his death. It also didn’t help that Parker was a gambling addict. The movie portrays Parker’s gambling addiction as one of the reasons why he was so money-hungry and willing to do unscrupulous things to get access to Elvis’ fortune.

When Elvis was 13 years old, he and his family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, the city that is most closely associated with Elvis’ childhood and young adulthood. (Chaydon Jay has the role of the adolescent Elvis in the movie.) Vernon got into trouble with the law in 1938, when he was imprisoned for eight months for check forgery. As a result of these legal problems, the family lost their home and had to move to a lower-income area that was populated by mostly African Americans.

The movie makes it look like Elvis was the only white kid in his area who was allowed or interested in going to the African American religious church revivals that were held in tents, where he would watch the passionate gospel performances in awe. Elvis was also a fan of R&B music at a time when it was concered “race music” that was only supposed to be performed and enjoyed by black people. Sometimes, Elvis would get teased or harassed for liking this music, but his decision to perform his version of this music ultimately set him on the road to stardom. Elvis was also a fan of country music, which he incorporated into many of his songs.

While an underage Elvis was sneaking into church revivals in tents, the movie shows Parker spending a lot of his time in another type of event that uses tents: carnivals. Parker is portrayed in flashback scenes as a carnival huckster skilled at selling and at coming up with con games. It’s a skill set that Parker brought with him when he decided to go into the music business. The movie takes a little too much time with scenes of Parker managing country artists such as Hank Snow (played by David Wenham) and his son Jimmie Rodgers Snow (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a musician who would eventually befriend Elvis.

Later, when Elvis and Parker meet in person, the movie stylishly stages this meeting in a carnival hall of mirrors. It’s an example of how this “Elvis” movie has fantastical elements. In real life, the first time Elvis met Parker was probably in a much more non-descript setting. Catherine Martin (Luhrmann’s wife and filmmaking partner) is a producer of “Elvis” and the leader of the movie’s top-notch costume design and production design.

Elvis’ imitation of African American R&B and early rock and roll (rock pioneers Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino were big influences on Elvis) could be considered cultural appropriation or an extreme form of flattery, depending on your perspective. But what most people can agree on is that Elvis’ performance of this music is what caught the attention of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who is widely considered the person who gave Elvis his first big music break.

Elvis’ early recordings on Sun Records were then brought to the attention of Parker, who is portrayed as someone who couldn’t believe that the singer on the recordings was white, not black. And when Parker sees Elvis perform for the first time, Parker says in a narration voiceover what his first impression of Elvis was: “Greasy hair, girlie makeup. I cannot overstate how strange he looked.”

But what really convinced Parker to want to represent Elvis as his personal manager was seeing the audience reaction (especially from females) that Elvis got when Elvis performed on stage and thrust, shook and swiveled his hips and legs in a sexually suggestive manner. The movie makes a point of showing how these stage moves had a primal effect on women and teenage girls in the audience, as Elvis often got them into a frenzy. Expect to see several scenes of Elvis being branded as “lewd and lascivious” for these stage moves in various scenarios, with the controversy fueling his popularity.

One of the odd things about this “Elvis” movie is that there’s a scene where Elvis is on stage early in his career and his band members are the ones to tell him to wiggle his hips more. If you believe this scenario, Elvis wasn’t the one to come up with these sex symbol moves. He had to be talked into it by his band members. Parker says in his ever-present voiceover narration when commenting on women’s lusty reactions to Elvis: “He was a taste of forbidden fruit.”

The movie correctly shows that it was Parker who convinced Elvis to ditch Sun Records for a more lucrative offer from RCA Records, which had the type of national distribution and radio clout that Sun Records did not. Sun Records released some singles from Elvis in 1954 (including his first single “That’s All Right”), but they weren’t hits. Elvis’ first RCA Records single was 1955’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was a smash hit and became his first No. 1 single.

In a flashback voiceover, Parker brags about how he was the first person to create a merchandising bonanza around a pop star. In a very over-the-top scene, Parker shows off a huge stockpile of Elvis-branded merchandise that is cluttered all over a room in a Presley family home. It looks like an Elvis product hoarder decorated the room.

As Elvis became more famous and was spending more time away from home, it started to bother Gladys. The movie has a scene that’s a little on the Oedipal creepy side, where Gladys tells Elvis that she’s worried about the way that his female fans look at him. Gladys acts more like a jealous girlfriend than a mother. And then, Elvis tells his mother, “You’re my girl.”

Elvis’ experiences with groupies are very toned-down in the movie, which has no explicit sex scenes or even explicit sex talk. Priscilla is sidelined for most of the movie. After Priscilla and Elvis get married in 1967, she’s just shown as someone who’s part of his entourage and becomes an increasingly unhappy bystander when he kisses and flirts with female fans at concerts.

For a while, Elvis and Priscilla lived in Los Angeles, but Elvis’ world-famous Graceland estate in Memphis was always considered to be his main home. After Elvis’ death, Elvis Presley Enterprises (which approved this movie) turned Graceland into a tourist attraction. The movie shows some of Elvis’ indulgences, including his lavish spending habits and his tendency to carry around a lot of guns. As expected, there’s a scene of a drug-addled Elvis destroying a TV set by shooting it up with a gun—something that he was known to do in real life from time to time.

Lisa Marie Presley (Elvis and Priscilla’s daughter, who was born in 1968) appears briefly in a few scenes. Priscilla’s breakup scene with Elvis is predictably melodramatic. She screams at him that she’s leaving him not because of his infidelities but because of his addiction to pills. Priscilla throws pills at Elvis before walking out the door. Priscilla and Elvis divorced in 1973, but their legal battles are never shown in the movie. Near the end of the film, there’s a tearjerking scene that’s the final word on their ill-fated romance.

Elvis’ movie star career is rushed through in a series of scenes that culminate with the media reporting that Elvis was in talks to be Barbra Streisand’s co-star in a 1976 remake of “A Star Is Born,” in which he would be playing a drug-addicted, has-been rock star. A radio announcer is heard commenting in a voiceover that Elvis wouldn’t have to do much acting for this role. Elvis, who had been trying with no success to become a serious dramatic actor, never did this remake of “A Star Is Born.” Kris Kristofferson ended up in the role.

With his movie career going nowhere, Elvis continues as a Las Vegas attraction at the International Hotel (which is now the Las Vegas Hilton) and as an artist doing several successful U.S. tours. Elvis wants to tour outside the U.S., but Parker keeps coming up with excuses for Elvis not to do these international tours. When the truth is exposed about why Parker is holding back on working outside the U.S., it leads to a turning point in the relationship between Elvis and Parker.

One of the more curious aspects of “Elvis” is that it doesn’t spend a lot of time showing Elvis in the recording studio. He was not a songwriter for almost all of his hits (an exception was his co-songwriting credit for “Heartbreak Hotel”), but this biopic doesn’t provide much insight into how he worked in a recording studio setting. And this “Elvis” movie doesn’t have any significant scenes of actors portraying the major songwriters (including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) who were responsible for writing Elvis’ biggest hits.

However, the movie has several scenes acknowledging the artists who inspired Elvis. Big Mama Thornton (played by Shonka Dukureh) is seen belting out “Hound Dog,” a song that was famously covered by Elvis. Little Richard (played by Alton Mason) appears briefly in a performance clip. During a media event, Elvis points to Fats Domino and says that Domino is the real King of Rock and Roll.

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (played by Gary Clark Jr.), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (played by Yola) and Mahalia Jackson (played by Cle Morgan) have small roles in the movie. B.B. King (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Elvis became mutual admirers of each other, and the movie briefly shows that friendship. If these influential African American artists are shown performing in the movie, it’s for a very limited amount of screen time.

The movie shows glimpses of Elvis being a concerned citizen who wanted to get involved in the civil rights movement, but he was ordered by Parker never to talk about politics in public. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy (both in 1968) and the civil unrest in the U.S. in the late 1960s are all portrayed as media news backdrops to Elvis’ personal problems, while Parker gripes about how America is going downhill because of the hippie counterculture movement. Just like many other Elvis biographies, the movie depicts Elvis as becoming more isolated the older he got and the deeper he got into drug addiction.

Elvis’ entourage, which was famously called the Memphis Mafia, is portrayed as not much more than being a bunch of “yes men” in the movie. The one who gets the most screen time is Jerry Schiller (played by Luke Bracey), who’s mostly seen acting like a personal assistant/security employee. A few of the other Memphis Mafia members portrayed in the movie are Steve Binder (played by Dacre Montgomery), Bones Howe (played by Gareth Davies) and Scotty Moore (played by Xavier Samuel), who don’t do or say anything noteworthy.

Because Elvis was a drug addict, the movie shows that he had his own Dr. Feelgood on the payroll to give injections and pills of whatever drugs were requested. In the movie, this enabling doctor is called Dr. Nick (played by Tony Nixon), and he’s based on the real-life Dr. George Nichopoulos, whose nickname was Dr. Nick. Just like in the movie, the real-life Dr. Nick had a reputation for being a drug supplier to many celebrities, including Elvis. The movie shows that Elvis was mostly addicted to amphetamines and opioids.

A harrowing scene in the movie shows Elvis collapsing in a hallway shortly before he’s scheduled to do a concert. Members of his entourage frantically try to revive him, but to no avail. The decision must be made to take Elvis to a hospital, or summon Dr. Nick to give Elvis an injection so that Elvis can do the show. You can easily guess what decision was made in a world where people live by the rule “The show must go on.” The movie makes a point of implying that this scenario happened too many times behind the scenes, and it led to Elvis’ downward spiral.

None of this is really shocking because there have already been so many exposés of Elvis’ private life, there’s really almost no new information to uncover. Elvis’ bizarre 1970 visit with then-U.S. president Richard Nixon is neither mentioned nor shown in this movie, probably because there was an entire movie made about it: director Liza Johnson’s 2016 comedy/drama “Elvis & Nixon,” starring Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon. Luhrmann’s “Elvis” movie isn’t concerned about being a celebrity “tell all” biopic as much as it is concerned about presenting Elvis’ life in ways that are served up like it’s on a conveyor belt and in other ways like it’s part of a splashy musical.

In other words, “Elvis” is a very mixed bag, but it shines the best and brightest in the area that matters the most: showing Elvis as a music artist. The movie has performances of Elvis hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “That’s All Right,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” Butler does very good renditions of some these classics, with standout show-stoppers depicting Elvis’ 1968 “comeback” TV special (“Elvis” on NBC) and some of his performances in Las Vegas.

The movie’s soundtrack also has some contemporary, hip-hop-infused remakes of classic songs, such as Doja Cat’s version of “Vegas” and Swae Lee and Diplo’s version of Crudup’s “Tupelo Shuffle,” a song that Elvis also recorded. Eminem’s original song “The King and I”(featuring CeeLo Green) is also part of the movie’s soundtrack. These songs don’t sound completely out of place in the movie, but the contemporary music does take viewers out of the 1950s to 1970s, the decades when Elvis made his music. However, “Elvis” is definitely a crowd pleaser in being a feast of Elvis music, as it should be.

“Suspicious Minds” is the most prominently used Elvis song in the movie. Even though the lyrics are about lovers who’ve lost trust in each other, “Suspicious Minds” could also be a theme song about the growing mistrust in the deteriorating relationship between Elvis and Parker. How much did Parker really play a role in causing Elvis’ downfall? The movie leaves it up to viewers to decide. Even with all of Elvis’ pitfalls and self-destructive excesses, “Elvis” has a clear message that any problems he had in his life were always surpassed by his love of performing and connecting with his fans.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Elvis” in U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022. The movie was released in other countries on June 22, 2022.

Review: ‘The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee,’ starring Paul Hogan

March 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Paul Hogan (center) in “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee”

Directed by Dean Murphy 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, Melbourne and London, the comedic film “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) portraying people who are connected in some way to Australian actor Paul Hogan, who’s best known for his “Crocodile Dundee” movies.

Culture Clash: The movie is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek satire of all the things that go wrong when Hogan tries to make a comeback.

Culture Audience: “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Hogan, but everything about this movie is a colossal mistake.

Paul Hogan and John Cleese in “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” is a very meta and misguided sequel in the “Crocodile Dundee” comedy franchise, made famous by star Paul Hogan, beginning with the 1986 blockbuster “Crocodile Dundee,” the first movie in the series. That movie was followed by 1988’s “Crocodile Dundee II” and 2001’s “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles,” with each sequel worse than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the “Crocodile Dundee” movie series is like a good meal that went rotten years ago, then retrieved from the trash, and then served up to people who never asked for this stinking mess in the first place.

In the other “Crocodile Dundee” movies, Hogan played the title character as a crocodile hunter from Outback Australia who finds himself out of his comfort zone in urban environments. In “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” (directed by Dean Murphy, who co-wrote the movie’s embarrassing screenplay with Robert Mond), Hogan ditches the Crocodile Dundee persona and portrays himself as a has-been actor who hasn’t been able to surpass his “Crocodile Dundee” success with anything else, and he’s persuaded to make a comeback.

You just know it’s going to be a dumb movie when Hogan’s Paul character is supposed to be getting knighted by the Queen of England. That’s something that would not happen to Hogan in real life. But it’s used as a silly plot device in the “race against time” aspect that comes toward the end of the film, which takes place mostly in Los Angeles, but also partially in Melbourne and in London.

It’s repeated throughout “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” that the first “Crocodile Dundee” movie was the highest-grossing independent film at that time. It’s mentioned so many times that it’s irritating, as if the filmmakers want to desperately remind viewers why Hogan was a big movie star back in the 1980s. In the movie though, Paul has a not-very-convincing “aw, shucks” humble attitude about his fame. His character claims that he’s been trying to retire for the past 20 years. Not really, because the real Paul Hogan did this very corny mess of a film as a possible comeback vehicle.

In “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee,” Paul is a bachelor who lives in Los Angeles with his Golden Retriever dog Paddy as his only companion. The movie didn’t get too meta, because there’s no mention of the real-life Hogan’s messy divorces, including one from his former “Crocodile Dundee” co-star Linda Kozlowski. In “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee,” Paul’s manager/agent is Angie Douglas (played by Rachael Carpani), whose late father used to be Paul’s manager and was the founder of the Douglas Management Team.

Angie is very excited to tell Paul that in six weeks, he will be knighted by the Queen of England. In the lead-up to this big event. Angie thinks it would be a good idea for Paul to get as much publicity and job opportunities as possible. This comeback attempt results in Paul making a series of disastrous public appearances that are supposed to be funny for this movie but the comedy is just dull and poorly executed.

Paul has a son his early 20s called Chase (played by Jacob Elordi), whose vaguely written and brief role in the movie just seems to be about displaying his toned physique, since Chase is shown leading a workout class in Paul’s backyard. Paul and Chase do not have a convincing father/son bond in the film, even though they’re supposed to have a good relationship with each other. Therefore, it seems that Elordi was just put in the film so the movie could attract viewers who know him for “The Kissing Booth” movies.

Paul also has a 9-year-old granddaughter named Lucy (played by Charlotte Stent), who lives in Australia. (Lucy’s parents are not seen, heard or mentioned in the film.) In one scene in the movie, Paul does a video chat with Lucy, who is rehearsing for her school play. Lucy and Paul adore each other, but she’s a little sad that he won’t be able to see her in her play because it’s on the same day of his knighthood ceremony in London.

Several real-life celebrities portray themselves in this movie. Some have supporting roles, while others have quick cameos. Olivia Newton-John has a supporting role as a friend of Paul’s. She invites Paul and Angie to a “Grease” charity event that she’s hosting with John Travolta. The real Travolta was smart enough to stay away from this movie, so don’t expect any surprise cameos from him. A fictional nun named Sister Mary Murphy (played by Dorothy Adams) runs the charity that’s supposed to benefit from the “Grease” event.

John Cleese does a parody of himself, as a washed-up comedian who’s become a rideshare driver to pay his bills. Guess who ends up being Paul’s driver in this movie? Cleese’s immense talent is squandered in this very tacky role that makes him look like a fool. Chevy Chase portrays himself in scenes where he meets up with Paul in restaurants, offers advice, and gets more praise and attention than Paul does. All of these scenes are uninteresting and often awkward.

“The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” pokes fun at Hogan’s “has-been status” in a scene where he’s visiting a movie studio lot while a group of tourists are nearby on a guided tour. The tour guide points out Hogan to the tourists, but they don’t care. This happens a few more times in other places, but this stale and unimaginative joke wasn’t even that funny the first time it was in the movie.

Another running gag in the movie that falls flat is that a group of fast-talking producers keep approaching Paul in various places to persuade him to do another “Crocodile Dundee” movie. One of these producers suggests that Will Smith could play Paul’s son in this proposed movie. Paul says no for a reason that’s obvious, but no one but Paul says it out loud in these meetings: Will Smith is black. When Paul says it, the producers act horrified and tell Paul that he comes across as racist.

Paul being misunderstood as “racist” is used in another badly written scene, where John drives Paul to the “Grease” charity event, but John accidentally drops Paul off at the fictional Black Talent Awards, which is supposed to be like the BET Awards. In a live TV interview on the red carpet, Paul says to the reporter: “I’m here to help the little people. I’m here to help those less fortunate than I am.”

Naturally, Paul’s condescending remarks come across as racist. And since he said these comments live on TV, he gets immediate backlash on social media and on the red carpet. Before things get more hostile for Paul at this award show, John sheepishly goes up to Paul and tells him that the “Grease” charity event is actually at another building nearby. The movie makes Paul look so clueless that he didn’t notice all the Black Talent Awards logos when he arrived on the red carpet.

More mishaps occur that make Paul look like he’s rude to unsuspecting people, but they’re really just “accidents.” There’s an incident where he’s accused of being cruel to tourist children. And then at the “Grease” charity event, Paul ends up on stage, and there’s a disruption involving a flying object that hits Sister Mary, and he gets blamed for it. All of these gags are so dumb, contrived and the epitome of horrendous slapstick.

“The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” also introduces a very annoying and unnecessary character named Luke Clutterbuck (played by Nate Torrence), a self-described “mama’s boy” who’s originally from Indiana. Luke was a wedding photographer in Indiana, until he decided to move to Los Angeles to become part of the paparazzi. Paul first meets Luke when Luke falls out of a tree in Paul’s backyard, in Luke’s desperate attempt to get paparazzi photos. Luke gets more and more insufferable as the story goes on.

Wayne Knight portrays a version of himself, as a theater actor who asks Paul for a temporary place to stay because Wayne’s wife Carol (played by Julia Morris) has kicked Wayne out of their house. Wayne is rehearsing for an upcoming musical, so there are some excruciating scenes of Paul being interrupted or frustrated by Wayne loudly singing or doing other musical-related things in the house at inconvenient moments. It’s the type of comedy that most sitcoms would reject.

Australian actors Luke Hemsworth, Costas Mandylor and Luke Bracey all have cameos as themselves doing red-carpet interviews. Australian comedian Jim Jeffries also portrays himself in a quick appearance. They either praise or give mild insults about Paul. Nothing is funny in these bits.

And it should come as no surprise that bachelor Paul gets a potential love interest. Olivia sets him up on a blind date with someone she knows named Ella (played by Kerry Armstrong). Paul quips, “I haven’t been on a date since a man walked on the moon.” That’s news to Hogan’s real-life ex-wives.

“The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” is so badly made that it seems like many of the celebrities in the movie might have committed to it without seeing the script first and/or did the movie as a big favor to Hogan. No one should tell Hogan when he should retire. But “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” is such an atrocious dud, it’s all the proof anyone needs that the “Crocodile Dundee” movie series needs to be retired once and for all.

Lionsgate released “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 12, 2021.

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