I’ve been a pretty big fan of Elvis Presley ever since I made a whirlwind pilgrimage to Graceland in the late 1980s, about a decade after he died at the age of 42. I gained a deeper appreciation for his raw talent and his unbridled passion for different styles of music–from rock to gospel to blues. And in the years since, I’ve programmed the Elvis Channel into my Sirius XM radio; I’ve sung the praises of Elvis’s 1968 comeback special (“If I Can Dream” is my favorite); and I’ve been known to stop channel-surfing whenever a cheesy Elvis movie appears, especially if it’s Viva Las Vegas with Ann-Margret. So, needless to say, I was quite eager to see director Baz Luhrmann’s take on Elvis. Especially when we all know how this story ends (spoiler alert: on the toilet).
My final verdict on Baz Lurhmann’s Elvis is–mixed. It took me a few minutes to acclimate to the unconventional style (i.e. the spectacle) that defines a Luhrmann movie (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) and a few minutes more to acclimate to newcomer Austin Butler as the iconic Elvis. It also took a minute to buy into Tom Hanks as Elvis’s manipulative micromanager with a Dutch accent, Colonel Tom Parker. But once the acclimating was done, there was plenty to embrace about Elvis.
The film settles into an interesting rhythm for a solid 90 minutes or so. The narrative unfolds in a superficial but engaging way, highlighting Elvis’s upbringing, musical influences, challenges, choices and meteoric rise to fame. There are no real shockers. It glosses over his acting career, the drugs, and his relationships with anything or anyone other than music and Col. Parker. It dismisses any other women in Elvis’s life except for Priscilla and his mother. And it spends as much time on the enigmatic Colonel Parker and his motivations as it does on Presley himself. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to hate Col. Parker even more than we did before, or if we are supposed to wonder if there would have been an ELVIS without the Colonel. It’s hard to watch any film about Elvis without pondering all the ‘what ifs’.
Anyway, the middle of the film is totally solid. But then, it gets bloated toward the end (no disrespect intended to, ahem, ‘old Elvis’). It simply goes on too long. Thankfully, it does manage to wrap things up with a sentimental flourish that is testament to Presley’s enduring legacy.
Long live the King! And, I’m all for seeing Austin Butler in a remake of Viva Las Vegas. Perhaps Ann-Margret can play his sexy grandma.
ELVIS opens exclusively in theaters on June 24.