'Elyse': Film Review

Elyse
Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
Unconvincing on every level.
12/4/2020

Anthony Hopkins appears in Stella Hopkins' directorial debut, which centers on an emotionally disturbed woman and her treatment in a mental hospital.

Early on while watching Elyse, you may find yourself wondering why on earth Anthony Hopkins agreed to appear in such a wan, amateurish drama. The answer becomes apparent when one examines the credits — the film marks the directorial debut of Stella Hopkins, and if you think the last name is a coincidence, it's not. The director/co-screenwriter is the actor's spouse, to whom he here demonstrates an admirable level of spousal support, if not much good judgment.

Hopkins (Anthony, that is) assumes only a supporting role in the film, which revolves around the title character, played emphatically, if not convincingly, by Lisa Pepper, who starred in Sir Anthony's own little-seen 2007 directorial effort, Slipstream. Pepper plays Elyse, the emotionally disturbed wife of a rich lawyer (a wooden Aaron Tucker). When first seen, Elyse is wandering in a daze outside her expensive modernistic home to the accompaniment of moodily atmospheric jazz and voiceover narration in which she quotes Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. The visuals in the early sections of the film are black-and-white, save for the occasional splash of red on such things as roses and a bicycle, but, sadly, not the little girl from Schindler's List.

Elyse's volatile emotional state is signaled when she returns home later that night and throws a tantrum upon discovering her husband, her mother (Fran Tucker, amateurish) and their nanny's daughter Carmen (Tara Arroyave) enjoying a quiet dinner of pizza and wine. The outburst prompts her husband to recommend that she see a psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis (Hopkins). During their initial encounter, they discuss such matters as the Escher prints on the office walls and she inappropriately asks him personal questions.

Not long after, Elyse embarrasses herself with unhinged behavior during a dinner party. But it's when she has another fit of rage and accidentally runs over and kills her young son and his nanny that Elyse winds up in a catatonic state, confined to a mental institution and receiving medication and electroconvulsive therapy under the watchful care of Dr. Lewis. It's at this point that the visuals shift from black-and-white to color, presumably signaling that we're not in Kansas anymore. (The great Dante Spinotti is responsible for the cinematography, although you'd never guess it from the visually unappealing results.)

The screenplay, co-written by the director and Audrey Arkins, is deliberately vague as to what is real and what is going on only in Elyse's disturbed mind. The net effect, rather than being tantalizingly ambiguous, merely proves frustrating, serving to keep us at a remove from the characters and situations, although it's doubtful they would have been more compelling had things been any clearer. As to why we're treated to a sequence of Carmen singing "Besame Mucho" in a crowded nightclub, well, perhaps the director will explain it on the DVD commentary.

The dialogue suffers from a strained, turgid quality, most resembling a daytime soap opera, especially in Elyse's interactions with a solicitous male nurse (Anthony Apel), who at one point delivers an impassioned monologue about his French upbringing that seems designed to be performed in acting classes.

Underplaying impeccably, Hopkins delivers a typically professional performance. He also served as one of the producers and composed the film's score, making clear his dedication to his wife's fledgling cinematic effort. But the embarrassment will last for only a couple of weeks, until the release of The Father, which seems guaranteed to snag the actor yet another well-deserved Oscar nomination.

Available in theaters and VOD
Distributor: Gravitas Entertainment
Production company: Margam Films
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Lisa Pepper, Aaron Tucker, Tara Arroyave, Fran Tucker, Anthony Apel, Julieta Ortiz, Danny Jacobs
Director: Stella Hopkins
Screenwriters: Stella Hopkins, Audrey Arkins
Producers: Tara Arroyave, Stella Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Tucker
Executive producers: Lisa Pepper, Stephanie Rennie
Director of photography: Dante Spinotti
Production designer: Dara Waxman
Editor: Bob Joyce
Composer: Anthony Hopkins
Costume designer: Samantha Kuester
Casting: Lindsay Chag

95 minutes