Film Review – The Identical
This might be the strangest film I’ve seen this year. I don’t know if The Identical (2014) is supposed to be a sincere musical drama like Ray (2004) or Walk The Line (2005), or if it’s supposed to be a satire in the same vein as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007). It has all the pieces we’ve come to expect, with a character trying their darndest to achieve their musical dreams. But there’s something else going on here. The whole piece feels like a façade, as though there was an underlying current I could never reach. I can’t tell if that was the intention of writer Howard Klausner and director Dustin Marcellino, which ultimately was the reason I came away disappointed. And yet, I admit I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, it was just too weird not to be engaged with it.
My fascination lay primarily with the lead character and the trajectory of his story arc. Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) is a good ol’ boy from the South, raised by his preacher father (Ray Liotta) and loving mother (Ashley Judd). What Ryan doesn’t realize is that he is actually adopted, given up by his birth parents (Brian Geraghty/Amanda Crew) as a result of their struggles during the Great Depression. To make things even more interesting, Ryan was born a twin, with his brother Drexel Hemsley (also played by Rayne) staying with his birth parents. Both kids coincidentally grew up loving music and wanting to become performers. Drexel became a superstar, and Ryan had to struggle between his musical ambitions and his adopted father’s wishes for him to join the church.
The odd thing is that – while never specifically pointed out – Elvis Presley is all over this. Elvis was famously a twin also, with his sibling dying as a stillborn. Essentially, what we have is a “what if” scenario imagining both twins surviving, and how Elvis’s massive success would have effected them both. Before being cast in the main role, Blake Rayne worked as an Elvis impersonator. He certainly has the character locked down: from the clothes, voice, hair, and dance moves, Rayne has every detail covered. Interestingly, this is a universe where the actual Elvis exists (he is mentioned by name), but everyone fails to notice that Ryan and Drexel look and act exactly like The King.
There are multiple layers all clashing at once. Obviously, a lot has to do with Elvis, but is this about him, or is it about Blake Rayne? One of the major threads involves Ryan’s inability to jumpstart his career. Because he is so much of an “identical” to Drexel, people flock to see him cover the star’s songs. Ryan wants to create his own material, but his initial notoriety is anchored toward someone else. Well, we can draw the parallels to the real actor and his own career. Blake Rayne wouldn’t be in the position of taking this role if he didn’t start out as a successful impersonator, dressing in the clothes of another person, and singing songs he did not create. This is where the dilemma lies. The story within the film focuses on an individual trying to make a name for himself despite his circumstances, yet the actor playing him found success capitalizing on that very idea. So whose story is this, Elvis’s or Blake Rayne’s? Layers upon layers, it’s mind-boggling!
Not much is to be said about the plot itself, as it follows the familiar steps other musical dramas/biographies have. But the depiction of the characters left me scratching my head. The supporting cast seems arbitrary, with the actors running contradictory to the roles they were playing. Are we supposed to believe Ray Liotta as a strict, Bible-thumping man of God? Are we supposed to buy Seth Green as the hip drummer that helps Ryan break out of his shell? Ashley Judd looks less like Ryan’s mother and more like his sister (despite the make up department trying to convince us otherwise). They all appear like stunt casting than sincere portrayals of real people. Dewey Cox could have walked on screen and he would have fit right in.
By the time we reach the glam rock era of the 70s, Blake Rayne’s wardrobe and longer hair calls to mind Slash from Guns ‘n Roses, even though he maintains that recognizable Elvis voice and delivery. Whatever authenticity is being strived for was lost at this point. The film is so Meta in the different facets it wants to touch on and so goofy with the stylistic touches, that it forgets to inject some heart and soul. It’s neither a send-up nor an earnest effort in the genre. The music is pretty catchy, but it’s basically the cinematic version of karaoke. Just like the main character, The Identical treats its material only on the surface, without ever digging deeper into who he is or what makes him “different” than others. I almost want to recommend it just to have people see how unusual it actually is.