‘…could still have used a little more musical action and a little less financial conversation…’

Look up ‘hagiography’ in the dictionary and you’ll find a link to Baz Luhrmann’s expensively mounted, loving biography of Elvis the Pelvis; $200 million might buy the rights to the Presley back catalogue, but the price tag also includes exonerating the singer from any responsibility for his own demise. Most stories about Elvis revolve around the same narrative; Elvis was rooked by his own manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and by the hangers on around him who together drove him to introversion and drugs, but Elvis’s monumental talent overtakes all comers in the final analysis. That’s the expected take-away from any Elvis biopic, but even with Baz showboating on style from the get-go, this one could still have used a little more musical action and a little less financial conversation.

Such lyrical carping aside, this is less of a biopic than a consideration of the fractured, fractious relationship between Elvis and Parker. The former wows audiences with his snake-hipped gyrations, attracting the Elmer Fudd-ish presence of Parker, who senses a showman’s opportunity to get rich quick. Of course, Parker is correct about Elvis’s talent, but his own gambling and lack of nationality prove to be an obstacle to Elvis cracking markets outside the US, and the working relationship between the two men begin to fray…

So ‘creative process’ isn’t front and centre here; instead, we probe the murky business affairs that curtailed talent and ambition. Austin Butler’s performance has garnered wide acclaim, and while the mannerisms are familiar, it surely isn’t an easy jump-suit to fill and Butler acquits himself well. Hanks seems OTT even for playing a hambone like Parker, but he’s certainly entertaining to watch. But Luhrmann’s biggest strength is the fluid use of music, mixing modern and original recording and performers a la Moulin Rouge, and with urgent, anachronistic rapping from the likes of Eminem on the soundtrack sure to infuriate Elvis purists.

One of the most interesting revelations is that Elvis was up for playing opposite Barbara Streisand in the 1976 A Star Is Born, but nixed it on the grounds that his manager would get on with Babs. That’s probably true, but there’s undoubtedly a lot of other material about Elvis that might have made the cut here; the narrow scope means that while this is a reasonably hot take on the King, there’s still plenty of room for alternative views. Ultimately, Elvis da Movie is a big, brassy variety show with a bitter-sweet theme, perhaps not perfect, but skillyfully evoking an icon whose influence on music and movies deserves such a gaudy, noisy tribute.

Thanks to Warner Bros UK for big screen access to this film. Elvis is out in the UK from June 24th 2022.


Leave a Reply
  1. Bloated for sure and a good example of ADHD filmmaking, but the ending tempered down a bit for me, and when Baz got out of his own way and just observed Austin’s transformation without the superfluous effects, the movie almost drew a tear of empathy.

    • Butler has a tough gig here, but he gets better as the film goes on, and as you say, somehow it sticks a landing that seems unlikely at the start. Maybe we didn’t need so much jazzy business in the first half, but BL at least manages to get the key points of his story over in a way that say Rocketman doesn’t.

    • It kind of jumps about. But pretty much everything is as it related to Elvis’s relationship with his manager. So the time period is large, but lots of traditional biopic stuff is missing.

  2. This is the worst movie we have ever seen and it forced us to leave the cinema with an audiovisual mash up anxiety attack. The movie just jumps quickly from scene to scene.

    • I hear you, and I’m sure you won’t be alone. There’s barely a normal scene in it, it’s all fragmented and could well be very annoying if you’re on the wrong side of it, particularly at that length.

  3. You’ve critiqued some damn impressive gigs yourself! Isn’t there always a Parker? Many that seek to to be ‘legends in more than their own minds’ are shackled with Marley’s very unregge-like chains… I was lucky to have ops to see some of the famous before they were famous–at DC’s Cellar Door, Bayou, college shows, National & Warner theaters, and Shady Grove’s theater in the round–where I threw…at Tom Jones and Engelbert… NY and London theater are incomparable! I’m going hunting for more Baz movies, wore out Moulin Rouge. Fun in Acapulco was Elvis last wave before the Tsunami Mersey Beat gloriously crashed our shores!

    • Romeo+ Juliet is the best of Baz, soundtrack + visual wit= classic! Have interviewed Engelbert, quite a dude! I guess every movie needs a conflict spine, but I hope if they ever make a movie about me, they don’t filter it through the story of my accountant! And saw McCartney back in the days of Linda on tambourine, still get chills when he plays She Loves You!

      • Chagrined to admit never watched R&J Baz version…will rectify. Ditto on accountant filter, unless it’s THE Accountant Affleck version, and we leave out the part about those murders, figuratively speaking… merde, really envious of ‘seeing McCartney’ and Wings. My brother took me by their AZ ranch right after she died. Chills of a different sort that she chose outside Tucson. It was wrongly reported she died in Santa Barbara… apologies for chatting too much, good evening…

        • Connection not jealousy is the desired effect! And you did play the Elvis card. Proud to have seen ELO, The Who, Amy, REM, Gaga, Springsteen, Paul Simon, and yet I bet my list would pale beside yours…Always a pleasure to chat, as Timothy Leary said, the only way to learn is hanging out with people who know better than I do!

  4. FA: OOOuuu bonus if he sings In the Ghetto. Does edible underwear count? I once made mistake of watching a turgid mockudocumentary on Elvis. I’d prefer to remember him more poignantly. See you in Viva La Vegas for annual Elvis impersonator convention? That’s the only Elvis movie I’ve watched twice.

    • I think I’ve lived in the wrong era considering such amazing gigs you’ve seen. I do think it’s a shame that Parker’s mismanagement provides the filter that we still see Elvis through in 2022, would have liked to see a fresh take. But as you’d expect from Baz L, the musical elements are choice here, even if the storyline is as rote as Fun in Acapulco. The King as a messy, unquiet legend, and he gets a film to suit his spirit. And you might want to get your tickets for Black Phone while you’re over at the pictures!

  5. I will check it out this weekend, depending on my boyfriend’s schedule. I”m not a big Elvis fan, but I love Baz Luhrman. He makes loud, gaudy, and arguably bold movies that are narrative messes but supremely entertaining to watch. Elvis and Baz seem like a good fit, so I’m looking forward to it.

    • Your anticipation is bang on! It’s good to see the Luhrmann of Moulin Rouge, narratively challenges, but never seeing a mad gaudy effect he didn’t like. I’m more of a fan of Costello than Presley, but would certainly watch this film again; pure indulgence!

  6. Elvis at 87 is looking good as is your gem of a review! I’m envious–have 2 days to wait! I like what you did there with ‘a little more musical action and a little less…’ In the Ghetto was the first of his songs I liked and because of my crazy cousin I saw Elvis in person; his sweaty scarfs sailed right by me. No didn’t throw panties (though I did for Tom Jones). Glad to hear there’s a bitter sweet element and agree–still room for other versions, however, Butler seems to capture essence of Elvis that’s eluded others. Thanks!

    • I had my doubts, but Butler is good and gets better as Elvis gets worse; I think I could have played him in the later stages. You clearly know the real thing when you see it, so sit back and enjoy 160 mins of the King. It’s a big messy movie, but it works, and In The Ghetto is one of the undeniable highlights! Bring your own underwear!

  7. Ditto Booky on Eminem. But then I don’t want to hear Eminem singing Eminem.

    If this movie had to clear the Elvis estate it’s hopelessly compromised in my book. Like most celeb bios.

    responsibility for his own demise; begin to fray

    • I liked the blasts of modern music, which is very much Baz’s style, if not Elvis’s. But that’s the problem with juke-box musicals, they give up any notion of a complex central character in order to put their subject in a good light…what’s your beef with Eminem? I’d have thought you might stand with Seamus Heaney in praising his restless energy…

Leave a Reply