When I was young, my best friend’s family, who arguably spent more time with me than my actual family, was obsessed with Elvis. I have vivid memories of being in her house and listening to her dad’s “oldies” playlist on the television. Rock classics like Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” and ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses” come to mind in addition to the King.
This time spent dancing in front of the TV was so influential that Elvis was the first artist I purchased music from on iTunes when I got my hot pink iPod Nano.
When I got to high school, my AP Government teacher was absolutely enthralled with Elvis. He even had a shrine dedicated to him in one of his closets. He wouldn’t tolerate any Elvis slander in our class, and constantly evangelized his music.
Even though Elvis was long gone before I was born, it was never lost on me how influential he and his music were.
While all of these sweet sentiments may lead you to believe I’m well-versed in Elvis related media, I can assure you I’m not. Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve even seen a related movie or documentary. I never felt like I needed to go searching for more.
That was until I heard about Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic, Elvis.
If you’re around my age and grew up on Tumblr, then you know Austin Butler for being a part of an “it” couple with Vanessa Hudgens. I can still see their joint Coachella outfits in my mind so clearly.
He was on Disney after I began moving on from the channel, so I just missed his filmography.
When I heard that he was going to be playing Elvis, I thought I must have heard someone incorrectly. I believe “Vanessa Hudgens’ ex?” were my exact words, quickly followed by, “Is he even a good actor?”
I was wrong to doubt him.
Austin Butler gives a larger-than-life performance that weaves in effortlessly with the world Luhrmann has meticulously created. He is exhausting to watch in the most exhilarating way, truly giving his all to every moment of his performance.
The energy of this film is palpable from the moment you hear Tom Hanks’ voice — a disappointing, and at times distracting, squeaky Holland accent.
Baz Luhrmann’s clear vision for this film is commendable and he really goes for it stylistically. Frames flash by in half a second or less with influences from comic-style pop art, vintage post cards, and Marvel-esque cascading words that seamlessly live in the world around it.
The story moves quickly, packing Elvis’ entire life into 159 minutes. I am always checking the time during movies this long, and I rarely find that a story is deserving of so much screen time, but I was hooked from the beginning in this fast-faced tour-de-force.
Butler is electric in every way, which makes tender moments with Priscilla, played by Olivia DeJonge even more captivating.
DeJonge is perfect for this role and shines bright without ever coming close to Butler’s blinding spotlight.
Once I heard about Elvis’ 12-minute standing ovation at Cannes, my expectations for the film went up. While I wouldn’t have willingly spent an additional 12 minutes in my local Cinemark theater, I understand the love and appreciation for this film.
And I’m not the only one. Speaking the praises of this film the most seems to be The King’s friends, family, and loved ones.
Due to the film’s rapid nature, it’s easy to get lost in it, making it easier to glance past some of the things left out. Luhrmann makes it clear from the beginning that this is a film dedicated to telling the story of Elvis’ exploitative manager, Colonel Tom Parker played by Tom Hanks, and it is just that. While it’s impossible to tell the story of his entire life without showcasing his downfall in some regard, the story chooses to highlight the great things the Graceland-native did during his career.
Luhrmann’s story, while laser-focused on the relationship between Elvis and the Colonel, has an undeniable undercurrent of diversity and the legacy Elvis has within the Black community.
It is no secret the immense influence Black culture, arts, and music had on Elvis, and this is on full-display in Elvis. Luhrmann skillfully and tenderly showcases Elvis’ childhood growing up in a Black community and eventually learning his craft through listening to gospel in his local church — an experience far more religious in nature than any sermon, it seems.
Luhrmann also weaves music, old and brand-new (like remixes by Tame Impala or covers by Kacey Musgraves), throughout the story with surprising grace.
Elvis is one of the most exhilarating films I have seen in a long time, and it is a film that is meant for the big screen. While the nearly three hour runtime might be difficult to squeeze into your busy schedule, this is a film that you do not want to miss, even if just to see before it likely hits the award season hard next year.