Miramax/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 84 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
Few countries enjoy their soap operas as much as the English do, and the proliferation of serial daytime dramas found on television there is proof positive of that, the home-grown stuff happily mixing it with imports from Australia and drawing huge regular viewing audiences. Nothing unusual about that, of course - hell, in the US they have an entire awards show devoted to their shot-cheap-on-video soapie culture - but in England it’s taken a step further, with prime-time dramas styled around the soap formula also doing regular big business there. The likes of This Life, Heartbeat and Cold Feet took everyday urban drama and gave it a decent budget, and have proved hugely popular as a result. Australian series The Secret Life of Us, very much cast from a similar mould, goes down as well with English audiences as it does at home. Needless to say, a move for the genre to the big screen was inevitable.
"It's not fair, Dodie. If this wasn't a widescreen movie, we'd be together right now."
Elephant Juice is not the first soap-minded feature film by any means, but in this case the connection is clear. Its writer, Amy Jenkins, wrote regularly for This Life, director Sam Miller directed episodes of the same show, and one of the key cast members - Daniela Nardini, who plays Daphne - was a principal in the earlier series. So the movie’s format is no great surprise: a circle of friends fall in and out of love and in and out of each other as they haplessly career towards their 30th birthdays and start to realise that things are not going to be the same forever. It’s the standard stuff of soap, albeit written more carefully and filmed with no small degree of artistry (the widescreen cinematography, by first-timer Adrian Wild, is terrific). The ensemble cast is very good, with a couple of international surprises thrown in for good measure (and, presumably, to please international audiences). Emmanuelle Beart does her best to put on an English accent as Jules, but has to cope with a role that leaves her very little room to move; she’s always worth watching, but here she’s given little more to do than look put-upon and be the foil for everyone else’s miseries. This is a central problem with the film - her character is the centre of everything that transpires, yet we never feel as though we’ve gotten to know her. The other imported actor fares better; Kimberly Williams, best known for her screen debut in the hit 1991 remake of Father of the Bride but decidedly low-profile since then - is the best thing about Elephant Juice. She plays the complex, upfront Dodie with depth and believability; she nearly single-handedly enlivens the whole film.
In the end, perhaps this one would have worked better as a TV series - we simply don’t get enough time with the various characters here to get a true sense of them emotionally - and without that, Elephant Juice can’t possibly click with its audience the way its makers obviously intended. “Another great British dud,” cried one UK reviewer at the time of the movie’s release in 1999. It’s not that bad, but it could have been so, so much more.
This rental-only disc from Roadshow provides the movie in its full 2.35:1 glory, 16:9 enhanced and looking a million dollars. The wonderfully composed photography is shown off to great effect on this disc, and the film transfer is exceptionally good, with only the teensiest fleck of dust and one almost-invisible instance of aliasing to spoil an otherwise perfect score.
The audio’s less impressive; the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is the sole soundtrack provided here, and while it’s not too bad in the big scheme of things, dialogue (much of it location-recorded) is thin and hard to understand at times, with one scene in a nightclub requiring the assistance of subtitles to comprehend at all. The music used throughout is mixed way too loud (and is mostly incredibly annoying, too) which doesn’t help intelligibility. The surround soundstage is used to great effect, though, in one sequence where a London Underground train literally arrives at the platform from the back of your lounge room.
The only extra offered (apart from Dolby’s Train trailer - an amusing choice, given the liberal use of MA-rating-generating “choof” within the film!) is claimed to be a “theatrical trailer”, but in fact it’s a promo made for video use by co-producing studio Miramax in the US. The trailer, not surprisingly, focuses almost completely on the relationship between Dodie and Billy, easily the most interesting thing about the movie.