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.