Weirdly, I can’t remember the first time I heard of Elvis, but I do remember the first time I recognized him. It was when a young Forrest Gump recognized him on TV after meeting “the King” earlier on in life. Needless to say, of course I have always been a fan of him.
This just goes to show that Elvis, one of the top five or so most popular entertainers in American history, is almost as embedded into that history as Washington or Lincoln. A truly larger than life stage presence indeed would deserve a biographical film of that caliber. Enter director Baz Luhrmann, and you get Elvis.
The Luhrman aspect is indeed what differentiates this film from other music bio pics. The other is the choice of how to tell the story, which is the narration of his rather infamous manager, Col Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). This decision seemed off to me, which may have been due to the Hank’s performance (which is not to say he is bad, but it is far from his best).
We get some of the obligatory flashbacks to him as a child, gaining some of his most important musical inspiration, but are mainly focused on certain key aspects of Elvis’s life. These, of course, include his introduction to Parker, followed by his introduction to the world via 1950s television (with all the screaming young women and angry politicians.) We see his romance and marriage to Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), though we don’t get much on his movie career. This is still all done under the eye of Col Tom Parker.
Prior to this, the only film I have seen by Baz Luhrman was his 2001 spectacle Moulin Rouge!. It is no secret that he is someone who is not afraid to go all out in his film making, something that was most likely true for the real life Elvis. That said, there are times in this film where Baz (who is undeniably talented) does seem to overdo it for no reason (this seemed more prevalent in the first half of the film).
If there is one reason an audience shows up for a musical (or even non musical) bio pic, it is to see the representation of the subject. One can easily overlook how challenging a task actor Austin Butler had in playing “EP”. His first goal would be to not be associated with the truly countless number of Presley impersonators that have emerged since his sudden death in 1977 (a year chalked with celebrity deaths). Butler also not only needs to sell the physical presence, but the idea that he is actually performing the pieces. Put simply, his embodiment of EP is down right electric, and reason alone to see the film. You can see it in the sweat on his face the way you most likely could on the original Presley’s face.
Parents, this is easily a hard PG-13, but I am not sure kids these days are hard core Elvis fans. I am sure they know of him, but I can’t remember meeting a hardcore Elvis fan under the age of twelve. Regardless, the film has a good amount of swearing, drug use, and mild sexual content. So yes, 13 and above is justified.
At one point, the aging singer relates himself to a bird without any feet: In flight until his last breath. It seems Luhrman took the same approach but failed to realize the audience does need a chance to breath at times (especially with a movie that is over 2 ½ hours long). That may seem unfair to say.
Then again, I remember what Johnny Carson once said:
“If Life was fair, Elvis would be alive, and all the impersonators would be dead.”