The Man from Elysian Fields
by Hope Villanueva
A writer’s tale for non-writers.
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Some people will go to any length to get what they want. In The Man From Elysian Fields, a writer chooses to become a male escort rather than admit to his wife that he cannot support her and his son.
Elysian Fields is the story of Byron (Andy Garcia), a novelist who struggled for years to finish and publish his book, only to find it gathering dust in the remainder bin at the bookstore, where it is not bringing in the kind of money his family needs. When his father-in-law refuses to lend them any help, Byron is courted by Luther (Mick Jagger), the owner of a high-class male escort service. Byron agrees to try it out and it paired with the lovely Andrea (Olivia Williams), the wife of a Pulitzer Prize winning author (James Coburn.) He now has money and is invited to help write his client’s next novel, but Byron ignores his family in the process. As the characters’ lives unfold, the audience sees what sacrifices they are each willing to make and what they lose track of along the way.
Screenwriter Philip Jayson Lasker has done a beautiful job of telling a story about a writer, one of hardest careers to depict sympathetically on screen or stage. The Elysian Fields script contains some of the best pieces of advice disguised as one-liners I’ve heard in ages. His script is directed in a simple and honest fashion by George Hickenlooper, the director of the infamous “Hearts of Darkness”, the documentary about the making of “Apocalypse Now.” They set their story in familiar locations in Downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena and make each person and real as possible, pulling fine performances from each member of their cast.
Andy Garcia heads up the cast and the tormented Byron. His inner pain is clear and though his actions seem foolish on the surface, the audience believes that everything is done with the truest of intentions. He is almost seduced into the escort business by Luther, played with surprising depth by Mick Jagger. To either side of Byron are two women, his wife (Julianna Margulies) and his client (Williams.) Both ladies play their parts faithfully, particularly Williams, who was recently the love interest in “Lucky Break.” Her character, who sleeps with an escort in her husband’s home, could be very dislikable, she draws barely a moment of contempt. Especially notable is Coburn, who is both funny and wise as Byron’s idol and Andrea’s accommodating husband. He is a foil and a guide for Garcia’s tortured writer and does it with the grace of a polished actor. There is also a small appearance by Angelica Huston, who has a heartbreaking scene with Jagger’s Luther mid-way through the film.
Elysian Fields is set up almost as a cautionary tale for the overly ambitious. As Byron takes his new job near the end of the film, he almost warns us that we should go after what we want but beware not to lose sight of what is really important. The film is accessible and moving for all audiences, but especially so for the struggling artists, living in abundance but just barely getting by. Even if you aren’t an artist, everyone had something that they wish for.
Hope Villanueva is a struggling artist herself, living in Los Angeles. She definitely feels Byron’s pain.
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