Written & Directed by Will Geiger
Starring: Max Minghella, Blake Lively, and Joe Mantegna
A Texas beauty queen dies upon accepting her crown. She miraculously comes back to life on a young and embittered mortician’s embalming table. Aided by the mortician’s father, the two souls connect and find that with a little work, life is worth living.
They had nothing in common, except death.
This doesn’t really fall into the a traditional horror category, but the basis of the film has a broadly painted supernatural angle, so I’m running with it. I promise this the farthest I can get from a romantic comedy; trust me. The opening scenes at the funeral home show the viewer Vincent Price’s 1959 horror masterpiece, The House on Haunted Hill, playing in the background. Nice start. Elvis (Minghella) and his handicapped father, Charlie (Mantegna), stop at a local bridge to place flowers and remember their mother/wife, it isn’t clear if she killer herself or simply drove her car off the bridge – keep going, you’ll find out.
Meet Anabelle, the stunningly beautiful Blake Lively, who showed from a very early age that her future work on Gossip Girl and Green Lantern would look like a joke after you see her acting chops unfold in this indie powerhouse. Groomed by her pageant-obsessed mother (Mary Steenburgen) and creeper step-dad (Keith Carradine, Dexter’s Agent Lundy), life has been dedicated to winning local beauty pageants more for her mother than herself. We see the dark side of her beauty as she purges every chance she gets, and we know that isn’t exactly a healthy angle, but a sad fact amongst a lot of pretty girls involved in this scene. She wins the coveted “Texas Rose” title and dies before the tiara is tight on her blonde head. The slow motion shot of her collapse is complimented and juxtaposed brilliantly with the falling glitter and confetti trickling down from above
Anabelle meets Elvis when she arrives on his embalming table. Already interested far too much in death, Elvis has a scrapbook of all of his “clients”. Drawn in by her beauty, Elvis leans down and give her a soft kiss. The camera flashes on its on and the windows burst open with heavy wind. A moment later, the “former” living beauty queen is coughing and gagging. Image everyone’s surprise when she arrives alive at the hospital.
Here’s where I’m ditching the plot details and start imploring you to watch this film. Joe Mantegna is fabulous in this role .He portrays a loving, but mentally and physically handicapped man who loves his son more than anything else. He has a hump in this film, an actually hump. His demeanor and personality made me fall in love with both him and his relationship with Elvis, who reads his father chapters of his unfinished horror novel every single night. Mantegna is so full of life and sweetness in this film that I was beside myself. This isn’t the usual strong and powerful role I’m accustomed to seeing him play. If his portrayal of gangster boss, Fat Tony on The Simpsons has an opposite – here you are.
Lively and Minghella sold this movie in a heart wrenching and emotional manner. Anabelle discovers that she really wasn’t living after her brush with death, and pursues life feverishly after she awakens. Elvis, the more bitter and hard-nosed of the two, falls deeply in love with the miraculously alive beauty queen and they find their similarities to be overwhelming. This is a film about living, about keeping the past accessible, but not letting it define you. The depths of sadness the viewer must endure is heavy, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t choking back tears as the movie draws to a close. Joe Mantegna’s rainy, one-armed golf game caused the tears to well – there’s no getting past that.
In the end, our couple fights an unexpected deal breaker that involves a trip to jail and a somewhat unforgivable betrayal. This film deserves my highest accolades and a spot in my hall of fame regardless of lack of supernatural or criminal horror. The things our engaging protagonists must endure to live is nothing short of hurtful and challenging. In the end, remember that this is ultimately about miracles, and you’ll witness more than one. Elvis & Annabelle is the polar opposite of the bullshit Hollywood tries to sell us on a weekly basis. Please rent this film if you have a strong constitution – the payoff is through the roof.