It sometimes seems that romantic relationships fall on either side of the same coin. First, there’s the giving side of the coin focusing on what you bring or what you have to offer to your partner and vice-versa. Both working together to build a healthy relationship. The other side of the coin focuses on what you get from the relationship, which is often based on passion and lust for you, and control of the other person, also for you.
In Alex Hanno’s Elephants, he tells the story of Lee (Luca Malacrino) and Kate (Allison Blaize). Kate is a seemingly put-together working woman, who is in the process of moving out of her mother’s home, who recently passed. Lee, on the other hand, has just been paroled from 3 years in prison and returns to Kate in hopes of finding a place to stay and possibly restart their relationship, which was abruptly put to a halt by Lee’s felony conviction.
Much to Kate’s stern “No,” she lets Lee stay with her until he finds his own place, and much to Kate’s warning to stay in the other room, the two hook-up that very night. Then there is Kate’s pregnant sister, Sandra (Lauren J. Kelly), who stops by in the morning in the hope of nagging Kate into finishing packing and blows up once she finds that Lee is back in Kate’s life.
“…paroled from 3 years in prison and returns to Kate in hopes of finding a place to stay and possibly restart their relationship…”
As the story continues, Kate wants nothing to do with Lee. She never visited him in prison because “he was bad for her.” But the smooth-talking Lee is able to insert himself into Kate’s life with seemingly no problem. Lee does little things to endear himself, such as leave notes about the social habits of elephants, including when an elephant returned to the herd after being away, the herd screams, defecates, and urinates in joy.
This developing romance between Lee and Kate seems to be progressing fine, but like all relationships in film, there is that big event to tear it apart. Elephants explore the toxic nature of this relationship. While Lee was in prison, Kate was overcoming her drinking problem and has found sobriety. Lee in a way hasn’t matured at all (realistically prison may not be the best place to grow as a person). While Lee wants to give his relationship with Kate another try, it’s difficult for him to find a job, and his temper is getting harder to control and threatens to put him on a path back to prison. His drinking sure doesn’t help.
Overall the story in Elephants is a good one. From the start, I was frustrated with how quickly Kate let Lee back into her life and into her bed. I thought, “is this really how you want to write your female lead.” Although Elephants started as one of those jokey comedies, it reveals what it really is. You come to understand what started as typical rom-com comedy, is examples of Kate’s co-dependence. It also hits on this idea that when we rekindle relationships from the past, we tend to use the good times as an excuse the relationship will work, while ignoring the problems that lead to the break-up. Also, Lee joke responses to everything proves to be a defense mechanism (I’ll admit, it’s possible I may be reading too much into this).
All this does is show off writer/director Alex Hanno’s superb character development. This is one of those talking movies, where all the action is in talking. He created three very distinct characters in Lee, Kate, and Sandra. Each with their own personalities, which is often a weakness in talkie-indie films.
“All this does is show off writer/director Alex Hanno’s superb character development…”
Elephants is a film worth watching, but when it’s all said and done, it’s a good story with a good setup but sadly with a very safe payoff at the end. What is really needed was a sense of danger and some kind of profound risk that would alter everyone’s lives irreparably. It just felt like that the only thing at risk is the relationship itself and nothing more.
Also, I get where Hanno was trying to go with the title of Elephants and the notes left behind about elephants, but it just didn’t work. It felt like this theme wasn’t strong enough to sustain and more-or-less abandoned half-way through the film.
Watch Elephants primarily for its fantastic performances by its three leads Luca Malacrino, Allison Blaize, and Lauren J. Kelly. Hell, I’ll throw in Nathan Shaw as Sandra’s husband, John. He’s likable and plays the much-needed voice of reason for Lee. Also, watch it for Alex Hanno’s solid story, character development, and dialogue.
Elephants (2018) Written and directed by Alex Hanno. Starring Allison Blaize, Luca Malacrino, Lauren J. Kelly, Nathan Shaw.
7 out of 10 stars