A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Identical is a family drama about an Elvis-like superstar whose "double"/impersonator is actually his twin brother. The movie's star (an actual Elvis impersonator) and many of the movie's biographical details are obviously Elvis references, but the movie is more of a faith-based drama than a Presley-sanctioned biopic. There's little-to-no language ("damn" and "hell," sparingly), violence (although a sheriff does strike the protagonist), or sex, but the movie's themes might be too mature for very young viewers. There's also some smoking, though it's accurate for the movie's time period. Although no knowledge of Elvis Presley is required, those who do know something about his life (like that he was born with a stillborn twin or that he had Jewish ancestry) will appreciate the various nods to his legacy. The filmmaker belongs to the Messianic Jewish faith, so there are overt references to special bond between Christianity and Judaism, as well as pro-Israel messages.
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What's the story?
During the height of the Depression, young couple Helen (Amanda Crew) and William (Brian Geraghty) Hemsley have identical twin boys they can't really support. On the day of their birth, William attends a revival where charismatic preacher Rev. Wade (Ray Liotta) shares that he and his wife (Ashley Judd) can't have children. The sermon gives William the idea to convince his wife to give one of their baby sons to the Wades; in return, they ask that the Wades not tell their son about his origins until both biological parents are dead. Years later, the mostly unseen Hemsley son grows up to be an Elvis-like rock pioneer known as Drexel "The Dream" Hemsley ... while the Wade-adopted twin Ryan (both are played by Blake Rayne) struggles to be a good preacher's son, even though what he really wants is to sing like his look-alike idol. The movie focuses on Ryan as he works various job and eventually finds that his calling is to become a Drexel impersonator dubbed THE IDENTICAL.
Is it any good?
Even seasoned actors can't save The Identical from seeming like the kind of watered-down family drama that would have been better suited as a Hallmark special than a feature film. As a concept, this story had a lot of promise, offering an alternative universe in which Elvis' identical twin survived (in real-life, the second Presley baby was stillborn) and grew up raised by other parents. Of course, the filmmakers couldn't use Elvis' name, but everything about Drexel "The Dream" Hemsley was created to remind viewers of Elvis, including the casting of Rayne, who's actually a Presley impersonator. But unfortunately the filmmakers took their fascinating idea and turned it into a bland, whitewashed story devoid of the charisma that made Presley such an amazing performer. Rayne might look and sound the part, but he's not a capable enough actor to carry this story.
Another of the movie's major problems is that it focuses solely on the adopted twin, when it would have been so much more compelling to show both boys growing up into similarly musical men -- one a star, the other frustrated. Luckily for viewers, Rayne is surrounded by capable veteran actors, like Liotta, who does a decent enough job as the earnest preacher; Judd as the mysteriously never-aging mother; and Seth Green as the comic-relief drummer who's known Ryan since he as kid.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether The Identical should be perceived an alternative history of Elvis' life or just a fictional drama. What are the similarities to Elvis' life? What are the differences?
How do you think this movie compares to other faith-based films? Does the movie have overt religious messages? Do you think you need to be a Christian to enjoy it?
What do you think about the original music; is it representative of the time period? Does it make you want to listen to or learn more about Elvis, even though it's not his music?
- In theaters: September 5, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 13, 2015
- Cast: Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta, Blake Rayne
- Director: Dustin Marcellino
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material and smoking
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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