You’ll hear the warning bells signifying a Category 5 Pretentiousness Alert right from the start of the ponderous and stiff psychological drama “Elyse,” and it’s not a false alarm.
With a jazzy, saxophone-heavy score pounding away, we see a beautiful blond woman who looks to be in her 40s descending the staircase of an imposing and tastefully appointed home and then wandering out the front door. Everything is in black and white, save for a few touches of red — roses in a vase, a child’s bicycle out front — as if the director had seen “Schindler’s List” and said, “I’ll do that too!”
We hear the woman in voice-over, speaking in a monotone: “People would rather live in homes, regardless of its grayness.” Cue the angelic, echo-chamber sounds of a woman singing, “La la la la la la …” as the woman says in voiceover: “If we walk far enough, says Dorothy, we shall sometime come to someplace.”
That’s right: She’s quoting L. Frank Baum and “The Wizard of Oz,” another movie that played with black and white and color.
So begins the arduous slog through “Elyse,” a poorly shot, badly acted, ludicrously implausible film directed and co-written by Stella Hopkins, whose husband Anthony Hopkins appears in a supporting role as a therapist and lends his grace and professionalism to an otherwise amateurish effort. Lisa Pepper gives a flat and off-putting performance as the title character, who is suffering from depression and violent mood swings, much to the consternation of her husband Steven (Aaron Tucker, bland and forgettable), her meddling monster of a mother (Fran Tucker, overacting as if she’s in a bad production of a Tennessee Williams play), the nanny Julia (Julieta Ortiz) and the nanny’s daughter, Carmen (Tara Arroyave).
At times it’s not clear if what we’re seeing is reality or a fantasy in Elyse’s mind. Either way, we’re subjected to a bizarre musical number and an overplayed dinner party meltdown scene — and the admittedly intriguing but strange interactions between Elyse and Dr. Phillip Lewis (Hopkins), who sits in the corner of the room, lit like he’s in an Orson Welles film, and banters with Elyse, who in their first session wears an ultra-tight mini-skirt, a white blouse and an untied bow tie, as if she just got off her shift at a swanky steakhouse.
Wiping away a tear, Elyse says, “I hate crying, it’s so silly to cry. It’s stupid.”
“Who told you that crying is stupid?” asks the good doctor.
“My mother. That’s a beautiful tie. I love that color, burgundy red. Did your wife pick that out for you?”
Wait. What now?
“Elyse” goes from dull and unfocused to flying right off the rails in the second half of the film, which switches to color (just like “The Wizard of Oz”!), as Elyse is rendered catatonic by a tragedy and is hospitalized and given heavy doses of meds and electroconvulsive shock therapy treatments. This presents an opportunity to introduce a French American male nurse (Anthony Apel), who takes quite the interest in Elyse and seems to be falling in love with her. Finally, mercifully, we reach the laughably bogus conclusion, with an epilogue that feels forced and rings absolutely false. At least “Elyse” is consistent to the very end.