Monday, September 5, 2022

ELVIS, and why you should see this movie

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley

If you haven't seen ELVIS yet, you really should. I watched it last week on HBO Max and it won't surprise me if I end up rewatching it a time or two. The strange thing is: it's not a great movie. It's not bad, but it's only pretty good. 

It's always a risk, taking a hugely popular public figure and creating one film to tell their entire story. Both the movie and the star portrayal has to work. If it's done poorly, fans may wish everyone had just left the legend alone. It's been done well before: The Doors, Rocketman, and Bohemian Rhapsody all come to mind. 

But this movie isn't as well done as any of those. It's (mostly) accurately told but it's choppy, all over the place, and somebody thought it was a good idea to cast Tom Hanks as a villain, in this case, Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager. 

Hanks (who was paid $8M for this performance, compared to Austin Butler who plays Elvis and only took home $700,000 for his performance) is just awful in this film. This may confuse viewers who are used to seeing him be amazing. He looks bad, sounds bad, and is a hideous, creepy mess. 

Elvis and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks

So why should you see this movie? You should see it so you can be shocked by how great Austin Butler is in the title role. Two people who agree are none other than Priscilla Presley and Elvis' daughter, Lisa Marie.

I was initially skeptical because I didn't think he resembled Elvis closely enough to be believable, but as soon as the movie began, I believed. Whatever the Elvis recipe is for sweetness, vulnerability, wildness, and sex appeal, he gets it perfectly. 

Butler endured a five month audition process to secure the role and then spent two years preparing for it, including using a dialect coach and movement coach. His accent in the film is flawless: not just Southern but specifically Presley. His dancing onstage is amazing. "Dancing" is not the exact term, but I don't know of a one word term to describe the Elvis shimmy, shake, wiggle, wildman thing that Presley was known for. In any case, he gets it right.

He also sings in this film, some songs entirely on his own and others with his voice blended with Elvis' (a technique used with Val Kilmer and Jim Morrison in The Doors. In Bohemian Rhapsody it is a 3 voice blend: Rami Malek, Freddie Mercury, and Marc Martel. In Rocketman, Elton portrayer Taron Egerton sings every note by himself). The music in ELVIS is wonderful, and the costumes are too.

Elvis with Priscilla, played by Olivia DeJonge

What about Priscilla? We get a bit of the love story between Elvis and Priscilla but you'll wish there was more. Olivia DeJonge is pretty good and might have been great if she'd been given more screentime. As it is, there's one scene where she and Elvis have their first kiss that is so moving, it made me cry. 

The majority of viewers are likely to be people who were too young (or had yet to be born) while Elvis was alive but who have enjoyed his rock and roll influence every time they've turned on the radio. For this reason, even a so so movie is worth watching, to remind us how far reaching his influence really was.

Viewers of every age will be sad to see how Tom Parker manipulated the innocent boy from Tupelo, and how willing the former carnival worker was to sacrifice Elvis' physical health for the sake of putting money in his own pocket.

Elvis wasn't around very long, but if you watch this film, you'll believe you got to be there when he was. That alone is worth the ticket price.

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