I want to preface this review with a couple of notes. One: I am an Annenberg student, not an SCA student, and I know absolutely nothing about academic film theory. Two: I love Elvis. One of my most prized possessions happens to be a genuine 1977 photograph of his grave that I found behind an antique store shelf. As I type it out now it seems like a very morbid confession, but I purchased it in good faith, I promise. And three: The cost of the ticket to see this movie was the same as the amount I’m getting paid for this review, so I’m basically doing this pro bono.
With all of that being said, I will do my best in bringing forth an objective review of this summer’s hottest biopic.
To pregame my viewing of “Elvis” this weekend, I went to Vegas for two days and listened to Phoebe Bridgers’ “Graceland Too” aplenty. Yet I was still unprepared. The first few minutes of the newest Elvis Presley biopic made me feel as if I accidentally missed my theater number and sat down in a virtual roller coaster simulator. Much like the stage outfits worn by Presley, the film’s cinematography was flashy, oversaturated and, perhaps, should have come with a motion sickness warning.
Austin Butler (of “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure” and “Aliens in the Attic” fame) plays The King this time around and puts every other Elvis impersonator to shame. Instead of treating the role as a cheesy act, as so many Vegas-based mimics have, Butler makes this look like the most brutal workout regime of his life, as much of his screen time is devoted to onstage performances where he is expected to perform otherworldly moves. His sex symbol status just adds to the intensity of his choreography, as he woos everyone in his audiences with his eyeliner and hip-thrust combo. In short, before women were throwing their bras to A$AP Rocky on stage, they were throwing their underwear to Elvis.
Yet it is Elvis’ role as a sex bomb entertainer that takes away from his humanity, a side of the superstar that audiences expected to be covered in this film. With Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) as narrator of the story, Presley feels more like a phenomenon than a human. Major parts of Presley’s personal life — including his relationships, substance abuse and health problems — are noticeably minimized in favor of focusing on the toxic and draining relationship between the star and his longtime manager.
While it is an unexpected choice of narrative focus, Luhrmann’s intentions shine through. Instead of being a painstakingly detailed biography of the late legend, he instead attempts to illustrate the dangers and exploitative nature of the entertainment industry and how easily genuine talents and cultural phenomena can be…
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