I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience with seeing Baz Luhrmann’s latest, Elvis, in theaters was foreshadowed by my fellow moviegoers: A single, young female sitting alone in front of me, swiping left and right on Tinder as she occasionally glances at the screen; an elderly couple behind me, continuously asking each other if that was really Austin Butler singing or if he was lip-synching (spoiler: it’s really Austin Butler singing); and hearing Top Gun booming from the next screen over, wondering if I was missing out on something better.
The film is told through unreliable narrator Colonel Parker, played by an overweight Tom Hanks, with an “accent.” Tom Hanks does what Tom Hanks does best: Play Tom Hanks, sometimes without an accent, sometimes with a really distracting one.
Austin Butler really channeled Elvis, rather than doing an impersonation. I often felt as if I was actually was seeing Elvis perform live – which is definitely more than I can say about Raimi Malek’s lip-synching performance in Bohemian Rhapsody. People will definitely feel “a feeling they don’t know they should be feeling” that Tom Hanks’ character talks about.
All bets are on Butler; he’s going to become the next big thing.
The film got me thinking, does Elvis really matter anymore? This is the film that’s supposed to convince us, “Yes! He was the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ and he still is!”
The theatre was divided into two demographics: One, girls seeing Austin Butler channel his ‘Elvis Pelvis,’ and older fans of the King of Rock and Roll. For those two demographics, at least, the film does deliver.
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was filmed in 2020, a time not unlike the ’50’s and 60’s, when the nation was dealing with division, hatred, and racial arguments. And the film makes sure to address this in its own clumsy, heavy-handed way. At one point, after Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, one of Elvis’ cronies pauses and says, “We’re at a time when the nation is divided. We need a voice right now. Someone needs to say something,” and glances toward Elvis, the 30-year-old white male who was often heavily criticized for stealing African American music.
The six (yes six) writers credited on this film handled the topic of Elvis’ heavy inspiration from African American singers very carefully. They tread the water, but ultimately stay in the shallow end of the pool. Again, the film touches on topics, such as racism, that we still face today. One would think the film would handle it in a less-in-your-face manner, but that’s not how Baz Luhrmann operates. He’s not subtle, in the least, about anything.
Overall, the whole movie is over stylized and doesn’t have much substance or go too in-depth, but one might describe Elvis in the very same way, so maybe Baz Luhrmann was the perfect choice to direct this biopic.
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