Water for Elephants falls in the grand line of star vehicles designed to pull back the curtain on the Hollywood sausage-making process just enough to remind audiences that stars—particularly the fresh, young, fuckable variety—are totally awesome. This story of “pretty much the most famous circus disaster in history” features Robert Pattinson—tween-bait marquee-topper thanks to Twilight, but basically untested as an actual, like, actor—as Jacob, a Depression-era veterinary student who joins a B-grade circus run by the volatile August (Christoph Waltz), whose dazzling younger wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), headlines the show’s animal-heavy spectacular. When Marlena’s favorite horse dies, August, who treats his staff like indentured slaves, acquires an elephant and forces vet and wife to figure out what to do with it; furtive romance ensues. Beautifully designed, sufficiently choreographed, insipid but watchable, Elephants stresses that showbiz is about the maintenance of an illusion by any means necessary. And as far as it exists to pull a hot young thing out of the minor leagues, the film itself feels like a desperate ploy to keep the star system churning in the face of looming disaster. Oscar winners Witherspoon and Waltz’s heavy emoting pads many shots of R-Patz looking smoochable, but what his role really needs is an actor who can think and hold a close-up at the same time. Someone like Paul Schneider, who gets about a dozen lines in a framing story, and deserves much better.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2011