The Last Elvis: LAFF Review

LAFF The Last Elvis Still - H 2012

LAFF The Last Elvis Still - H 2012

A riveting performance, onstage and off, is the soulful center of this drama about an Elvis impersonator facing the emptiness of his life.

Like another recent feature from Latin America, 2008’s Tony Manero, the Argentine drama The Last Elvis (El último Elvis) revolves around a pop-culture obsession that has tipped into the territory of dangerous delusion. But director Armando Bo’s first feature — a selection of the recent Los Angeles Film Festival — is nowhere near as dark or politically pointed as the earlier film from Chile. Anchored by a knockout performance by real-life Elvis Presley tribute artist John McInerny, Bo’s sympathetic character study focuses on the emptiness of one man’s life as he braces for his last stand.

Bo and co-writer Nicolás Giacobone, two of the credited screenwriters of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful, offer no easy conclusions or redemption for their protagonist. (Elvis is a far more cohesive and convincing film than Biutiful.) A factory worker by day and small-time star by night, Carlos “Elvis” Gutiérrez has built his entire life, such as it is, around this borrowed identity. In his shabby, barely furnished apartment, his small-screen viewing consists entirely of Presley concerts and interviews. He insists on calling his ex-wife (Griselda Siciliani) Priscilla, though her name is Alejandra; their young daughter (Margarita Lopez), naturally, is named Lisa Marie.

Carlos’ awkward stabs at paternal behavior tend toward such advice as “Remember to keep a level head” and the gift of a bird that he has taught to say “Elvis.” Having run out of patience and believing that he’s not a good influence on their daughter, Alejandra is seeking sole custody. But after a serious accident puts his ex in the hospital, Carlos and the wary grade-schooler forge a deeper bond, even as he struggles to offer her something more lasting than peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches.

The accident also puts Elvis’ big scheme — unrevealed until late in the film — on hold. His calls to airlines and limo companies, along with his plan to perform the showstopper “Unchained Melody” at a gig, signal a leap away from the assembly line. Whether it leads him toward fulfillment or deeper into delusion is up for interpretation, but when the film takes a sharp turn, out of Buenos Aires, Bo and McInerny make the far-fetched events, and the ambiguous ending, work.

An architect and part-time Elvis crooner who Bo originally hired as a coach for his lead actor, McInerny is utterly compelling. He turns the unlikely Carlos into a rooting interest, revealing the still-sputtering spark behind the portly, hangdog exterior. When Carlos takes the stage in his Vegas-era white suit (nice work by costume designers Luciana Marti and Manuela Marti), his smooth baritone and supple phrasing are evidence not merely of talent but of a dignity that makes his striving as heartening as it is pitiful. Among the other celebrity impersonators with whom he crosses paths (Iggy Pop, John Lennon and Mick Jagger wander into view in various scenes), Carlos considers himself nothing less than the King.

Sebastian Escofet’s pulsing score heightens the sense that Carlos’ obsessive devotion is moving toward a decisive event. Javier Julia’s deft camerawork and the production design by Daniel Gimelberg build the subjective atmosphere, an intriguing mix of somber and droll, gritty and chimerical.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
A presentation of Rebolucion, Kramer & Sigman Films and Anonymous Content, with the participation of INCAA and Telefe
(In Spanish with English subtitles)
Cast: John McInerny, Griselda Siciliani, Margarita Lopez
Director: Armando Bo
Screenwriters: Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo
Producers: Steve Golin, Hugo Sigman, Patricio Alvarez Casado, Victor Bo, Armando Bo
Executive producers: Patricio Alvarez Casado, Matias Mosteirin
Director of photography: Javier Julia
Production designer:Daniel Gimelberg
Music: Sebastian Escofet
Costume designers: Luciana Marti, Manuela Marti
Editor: Patricio Pena
No MPAA rating, 91 minutes