A sometimes artful, sometimes awkward jumble of romantic whimsy, dark comedy and magical realism, “Elvis and Anabelle” is a cult pic in search of a cult aud. This filmed-in-Texas indie about a mortician’s son who somehow revives a seemingly deceased beauty queen might be embraced by simpatico ticketbuyers during limited theatrical runs on and off the midnight-movie circuit. It’s more likely, however, that favorable word-of-mouth buzz won’t begin in earnest until after “Elvis” has left the multiplexes and resurfaced on homevid.
Anabelle (Blake Lively) is a lovely small-town lass who’s introduced as a not-entirely-enthusiastic contender for the title of Miss Texas Rose. Coached by her manipulative mother (Mary Steenburgen), who’s clearly using her daughter to vicariously fulfill her own dreams, and encouraged by her leering stepfather (Keith Carradine), she triumphs at the televised competition. And then she promptly drops dead of a heart attack.
But she gets better.
In the world according to writer-director Will Geiger, all it takes to wake any sleeping beauty — even a very deep sleeper — is a kiss from a hunky admirer. In this case, the unlikely Prince Charming is Elvis (Max Minghella), a handsome yet haunted young man.
Because his ever-cheery but mentally diminished father (Joe Mantegna) can’t manage on his own, Elvis has taken over the responsibilities of running his family’s funeral home business. Which is why, late one night, he’s in close contact with Anabelle, who lies on his embalming table.
Geiger uses an admirably light touch during an oddly charming sequence that, in other hands, might have come off as absurd and/or perverse. There’s nothing necrophilic about Elvis’ sudden urge to kiss Anabelle — he’s simply smitten, and acts on impulse — and, despite mood enhancement by conveniently bad weather, maybe nothing really supernatural about her instant revival.
Trouble is, she finds life less than enjoyable, as reporters continually hound her and her mom tries to exploit her celebrity. So she opts to hide out with Elvis and his father in the sprawling and secluded weather-beaten house that doubles as their residence and workplace.
Not surprisingly, Anabelle gradually brightens Elvis’ dreary life with her own sort of revivifying life force. But their budding romance is threatened by people who won’t leave Anabelle alone, and who strongly disapprove of the kissing of corpses.
Although it leaves the aud in a pleasingly upbeat mood, “Elvis and Anabelle” occasionally stalls during frequent tonal shifts. Worse, it relies much too heavily on visual cliches while focused on the frolicking of the title characters.
Minghella is genuinely affecting in some scenes, but merely affected in others. He has some very sweet moments with Lively, who more than lives up to her name with a spirited performance. But he’s at his best when Elvis, a would-be horror novelist, does nothing more dramatic than read scary bedtime stories to his beloved (and visibly delighted) father.
In the latter role, the type of part that can tempt thesps into scene-stealing, Oscar-baiting excess, Mantegna is exceptionally adept at underplaying while completely immersing himself in the character. Indeed, some auds may not recognize it is Mantegna until several minutes into the pic.
Conrad W. Hall uses an imaginatively varied color palette in his high-def lensing, allowing Geiger to seamlessly incorporate a smattering of fantasy elements. Other tech values are solid.