The Issue With Elvis is a family film made by a family of filmmakers. The intimacy of their behind-the-scenes relationships really shines through the story. Oftentimes, films made by a small crew on a smaller budget can come off as unprofessional or unnecessarily loose. But the script and direction by Charlotte Wincott, writing for her husband and son, really allow their natural creative chemistry to unfold onscreen. It’s a positive, pleasant watch that feels authentic, lived in and, most of all, very kind-hearted without avoiding difficult subjects and complicated characters.
If you’ve watched action movies in the last 30 years, you might recognize the star, Jeff Wincott. The Canadian actor made a name for himself early in his career playing martial-arts heroes, police officers and other action-oriented roles. He’s appeared as a supporting actor in a number of recognizable features. I knew his face and his voice but couldn’t quite place where I’d seen him last until I realized it was last year’s great indie, Kringle Time. His son, Wolfgang, also appeared in the film.
In Elvis, the father and son duo star as Dr. Mercer and Elvis, respectively. Mercer is a curmudgeonly biologist who lives alone in the woods of West Virginia, having left academia because of the endless nature of researching and writing about topics he didn’t believe in just for funding. Personal loss compounded his feelings about his profession, and he feels like he’s done all he was put on Earth to do, at least with regards to his fellow human beings. He suffers from a form of arthritis that he self-treats by farming mushrooms from the surrounding area. Nature is Mercer’s home, and he respects it. Having spent so long away from other people, Mercer has developed a few particular habits, such as talking extemporaneously about his scientific interests. The solitude has left him lonely, although he’d never admit it … until Elvis comes along.
They meet one day while Mercer is on a mushroom hunt and strike up a fast friendship. Elvis has run away from home, where his schizophrenic father has made stability hard to come by. He lives in a rusty bus outside of an abandoned backwoods amusement park. Concerned, Mercer brings Elvis home and allows him to live in a guest room while he contacts the authorities to find help for his new friend.
The elder Wincott is great as Mercer, whose character’s rationale for wanting to be alone feels pretty relatable these days. His constant scientific monologues work because Wincott sells the scenes as the expressions of someone subconsciously happy to be heard again. Elvis is the first person to really listen to him in years. Wolfgang, with fewer credits to his name, delivers a performance that might rankle audiences who don’t give child actors the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t bother me because he actually feels like a kid, sometimes unsure of the words he uses or whether he can trust Mercer despite quickly warming up to him. Their natural father-son chemistry comes across, particularly later in the film.
That’s important because the two of them are really the only onscreen characters. There are some supporting roles that are voiceover-only, but otherwise, it’s just Mercer and Elvis learning to live together. To their credit, it really wasn’t until the end of the story that I realized it was just the two of them.
Truly, though, I think Charlotte Wincott’s role behind the camera makes the biggest difference in how their story is told. Much of the film is told through dialogue between the two leads, usually while sharing a meal. Making these types of setups interesting is tough work, but she succeeds for the most part. A large amount of the story seems to have been filmed in public parks in West Virginia, and the environment comes off beautifully. Rarely does it feel like we’re just a few miles from a city or a town. The beautiful but quiet isolation really enhances the character’s arcs.
Family is at the core of The Issue with Elvis, and the reason it works on both sides of the camera. The story the Wincotts chose to tell is fundamentally about the family we find and create, as well as the importance of finding someone to care about more than yourself, even if it comes in an unexpected way. Mercer and Elvis find one another. It may be a story we’ve seen told elsewhere, but that’s because it’s a message that never loses its importance. There’s always someone out there for you, even if it means opening your heart to finding them.