June 29, 2022

“Elvis” is a Biopic Fit for a King (Review)

How can you tell the story of an iconic industry titan in a way that does justice to their influence and legacy — while also telling a story appealable to the masses? The answer to that near-impossible question is: you don’t. Not in a conventional way at least.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Baz Luhrmann, not necessarily known for his faith in source materials (or to history, in this case), has taken the reins of an Elvis Presley biopic. The King of Rock and Roll, a towering historical figure (despite not being confident in his own impact) was only 42 when he passed away, but managed to create an indelible impression in very little time. Luhrmann’s
Elvis is simultaneously a tribute to his musical brilliance, a reflection on the lasting trends he pioneered, and a portrait of United States history across three decades.

Those familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s filmography — which includes Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge! and 2013’s The Great Gatsby) know of his jarring stylistic decisions, which tend to involve anachronistic music choices, a far-too-quick pace and odd fantasy sequences. All of those are present in Elvis, but most of them make sense here; whether it’s Colonel Parker walking through an endless corridor of slot machines in a hospital gown or a Doja Cat song playing over a sequence set in the 1960s, Luhrmann’s quirks seem less out of place here.

Elvis Presley is the most impersonated man on Earth — Las Vegas will give you all the proof you need. Playing him in a film, and across his entire life, seems an insurmountable task, but former Nickelodeon star Austin Butler steps up to the plate and gives it his all. With Butler, it’s not an impression; he imbues himself with the authenticity that made Elvis the person he was. There are videos of Butler floating around online comparing his interviews before and after the filming of Elvis, which only proves that the role legitimately changed him as a person. Even if you can’t get on board with his performance, his commitment is astounding, and I find his Elvis Presley incredibly engaging to watch — just like the man himself. Elvis just made Austin Butler a movie star.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Of course, I couldn’t complete this review without discussing Tom Hanks, who plays Elvis’s longtime manager (and financial abuser) Colonel Parker. This is the movie that Hanks got COVID-19 while working on, alerting the media-hungry world that the pandemic could be truly dangerous.

While certainly fitting in with Luhrmann’s over-eager style, Hanks actually does a great job. His accent and Parker’s role in the film’s story is a topic of controversy, but I have a feeling that wasn’t at the forefront of Luhrmann’s mind. Elvis pulls back the curtain, but not too much, preserving the public perception of the King while drawing attention to aspects of his career that are not as well known. We know how it ends, and so Elvis becomes a means of exploring a larger idea through a historical figure.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

And thus,
Elvis can never be a true biopic. It hits the familiar beats that films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman do, but it does so in such a bizarre way that it immediately separates itself from any film that came before it. There’s far too much ground to cover to focus on any one moment, and everything moves by so fast that too many interesting ideas don’t get the time they need to fully percolate. But Baz Luhrmann has my number, and his ambition is endlessly fascinating. His stories allow us to truly inhabit the worlds he creates, even if it’s a very different world than the one we know. Elvis may have left the building, but his legacy lives on, and this film is a hugely entertaining encapsulation of what can only be described as an excitingly tumultuous life.

Elvis is in theaters now.

1 comment:

  1. sara without a fucking hJuly 5, 2022 at 6:49 PM

    So true. And yea, what the fuck was with that accent?