Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is alike a euphoric musical perfect for a Saturday night. But if you’re hungry to know more about the King, it leaves you a little wanting.
Elvis (2022) Synopsis
Near three-quarters of a century after his debut, Elvis Presley remains the best-selling solo music artist of all time. Just who is the man behind the legend, the sensation, and the cultural icon that audacious challenged American racial segregation in the 1950s? And what role did “Colonel” Tom Parker, his dodgy manager, play in his success and death? This glitzy biopic from Baz Luhrmann tells the story from the perspective of Parker.
I start this snappy review with an important declaration. I know very little about Elvis Presley.
Despite playing music for over over 30 years, I can only name you two Elvis hits; that is, till yesterday. For all sorts of reasons that I can’t properly explain, I never had much interest in the King of Rock and Roll too. Or Mao Wang (猫王 | King of Cats), as older Chinese still refer to him as.
This unfamiliarity, in turn, ensured one thing at the cinema yesterday. I was completely, utterly enthralled within ten minutes of the show. Yes, Baz Luhrmann’s stylish excess and comic book-like editing contributed, but more fascinating were the many Elvis cultural and musical trivia frenetically dished out. From details of his family to his cultural roots, to his almost superhero-like awakening to the phenomenal power of music.
There was also, of course, Austin Butler’s stunning portrayal of the King. Again, I’m unfamiliar with the real Elvis, but a simple comparison of Butler’s moves with historical footage immediately shows how successful the Californian actor is when it comes to capturing Elvis’ stage persona. I’m not at all surprised the Presley Family approves.
Moving on to the body of the show, the raw energy, the music, and the glitz, consistently dazzled. Tom Hank’s almost comical depiction of “Snow Man” Tom Parker, with his weird accent and all, might be to some viewers, ludicrous. (The 1968 TV comeback segment is an absolute satire) However, I feel this absurdism added to the enchanting surrealism of the story.
That’s right. This entire biopic is infused with a dream-like quality from start to end. One that befits the story because it exemplified the carnival wonder Parker was so adept at cultivating. On that, let me just add that Parker is not completely presented as an exploitative, over-the-top villain too. I think the movie deserves praise for highlighting how the dodgy fellow was equally instrumental in Elvis’ phenomenal rise and enduring popularity.
As for what I didn’t like about the show, I have to borrow from Richard Brody’s review for The New Yorker, because that was exactly how I felt after watching the movie. Much like 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody, this biopic dishes out all the key moments, triumphs, and slumps of Elvis’ career. You get an actor who looks like, dances like, and sings like the historical star too. But you don’t go home with any insight beyond what’s long recorded.
In other words, it’s very much a Wikipedia entry stylishly brought to life, to paraphrase Brody.
This was disappointing to me, partly because official synopses strongly hinted at an exploration of Priscilla Presley’s influence on her husband. That said, I acknowledge Luhrmann most likely made a sensible decision with the story direction.
There continue to be all sorts of theories about Elvis’ life and death, to put it politely. For many fans, he will forever be an irreplaceable icon too. A larger than life giant who inspires and uplifts from beyond the grave.
Personally, I don’t think there is any need to sully cherished memories with new theories and claims. (Or any need to risk fan fury, for that matter) What’s widely accepted is enough for a nostalgic movie, especially one that is also a homage.
We can all just stick with lamenting Tom Parker’s dishonesty. Stick with lamenting the King’s all-too-soon passing too.
True movie lovers will know that in another universe, Elvis learned his movies from another Tom Hanks character. Here’s a reminder!
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