A warm-hearted and always smoothly-functioning depiction of small-town Texas life, Elvis And Anabelle is sweet-natured but lacks enough grit to push it beyond the DVD shelf. It's an offbeat love story, with a hint of the otherworldly about it, and the script and the acting are decidedly above-par, but it's ultimately too flat and uninvolving to warrant serious theatrical interest. Nevertheless, it could be a solid performer on television around the world.
Elvis (Minghella) works as a mortician, without a license, in his father Charlie's (Mantegna) funeral parlour. Charlie has gone a bit daft in recent years, so Elvis has gotten into the habit of covering for him by doing all the embalming.
Meanwhile, Anabelle (Lively), a wannabe beauty queen, is pushed by her ambitious mother (Steenburgen) and lecherous stepfather (Carradine) toward greater and greater success, and at the moment of her highest glory as Miss Texas Rose, apparently succumbs to a heart attack, brought on, we learn from the television news, by an eating disorder.
When her body is delivered to the funeral home, Elvis, moved by her beauty, kisses her gently, like the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, whereupon she jumps up, magically brought back to life.
Now that she's been redeemed, though, she's no longer content to lead the life that others have designed for her. She runs away, improbably hiding out in the funeral home, to which she predictably brings new life and even a new coat of exterior paint.
The remainder of the film plays out as an against-all-odds love story between dour mortician still resentful over his treatment by the popular Anabelle and her friends in high school, and lively, vivacious beauty queen who won't take no for an answer. Dark secrets are revealed, quasi-comic suicides are attempted, and lives change.
Minghella is a darkly handsome, quite competent actor and presence who recalls the early Dean Stockwell, while Lively is all that and more. They are mostly fun to watch, and the chemistry between them is good, but it remains significantly below the boiling point.
The supporting cast of veterans Mantegna, Steenburgen, and Carradine bring a deal of ballast to the proceedings, but all are stock characters we've seen before: lovably gaga grandpa, scheming mom, and alcoholic, randy stepdad.
The script is always perfectly serviceable and there is never a moment where a viewer will actually completely lose interest in what's going on, but nevertheless there's not much that's particularly special here.
Whatever good lines there are are mostly reserved for the Mantegna character, who delivers them in his usual professional manner, but audiences will quickly begin to tire of his cuteness.
As obvious fillers, we are treated to not one but two montage sequences in the final third of the film, with music by Bright Eyes and Paolo Conte (an inspired juxtaposition) providing more energy than the cliched visuals.
Burnt Orange Productions
Goldcrest Films International
Conrad W Hall