When it comes to musical biopics, I’m in the minority that believes that they are fun and should be made. I love learning a lot about iconic music legends and reintroducing them to the world further breathes life into their legacies. Even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ a couple of years ago, it introduced me to the band and a number of iconic songs. The same goes for ‘Rocketman‘ which I love and adore, such an underrated gem! With ‘Elvis‘, however, I’m slightly ashamed to say he is a bit too long before my time. I obviously know who he is, what he looks like with the costumes and the hair but I cannot say that before watching this movie I knew a single song of his. A relative on my mother’s side who I’ve never met because she passed away when I was young had an Elvis shrine. It was random memories like these that formed who I knew Elvis to be up until this movie. I wasn’t all that excited to watch it honestly but when I saw Baz Luhrmann’s name attached, I just knew I had to give this movie a watch and despite its ridiculous two-and-a-half-hour runtime, I enjoyed this movie far more than I ever thought I would.
spoilers for ‘Elvis‘ are featured in this review.
What makes this movie work is that it doesn’t follow a traditional biopic structure. Sure the tropes are there of course but the way this story is told is very interesting because ironically enough, Elvis Presley himself isn’t the main focus of the movie. It reminds me of the way last year’s ‘Spencer‘ was written in the sense that it tries to capture the iconic figure through moments and situations in their life. In a biopic, usually, the story gives roughly the same importance to the figure’s personality and their journey to fame. Here, the movie is more interested in showing the facets of his career from an outside and inside perspective rather than providing a thorough retelling of his life. The movie starts with him already having a firm grasp on music, it focuses more on his career than it does him. Elvis the man is captured through specific moments and events and how he reacts to those situations, it lets you in on how he operates and thinks but since it’s with selective moments in his life, it makes this portrayal all the more nuanced and compelling. Austin Butler does a fantastic job, he embodies this character so well, it was genuinely chilling seeing real-life clips of Elvis at the end because Butler mastered the movements, speech patterns and aura of Elvis so well that the transition from Butler to the real deal was seamless.
The best part about these biopics was doing all the research. In this case, I waited till after the movie to do some digging on Elvis’ life, legacy and impact. It was shocking to me how things turned out for him in the end. When I would hear the name, I would think of fame and glory but his story ends quite tragically. It transformed the way I looked at him. Seeing elders describe him and reminisce over his era in pop culture is so endearing. It is fascinating to learn about these godlike figures because it is such a compelling story every time and the beauty of this movie is that through Baz Luhrmann’s visual style, it is incredibly memorable, every shot sticks and the feeling it evokes ties everything together. You feel the excitement, you understand why the fans love him and why he was considered risque at the time. Luhrmann put us straight into those decades and manoeuvred through his career carefully. The interesting thing about this movie however is that it portrays Elvis honestly. It addresses the fact that his music originated from his love for African American music which was mostly what he was surrounded by as a child. It leans into how without those influential black voices that inspired him, he wouldn’t have a career. They are a crucial element in his story. He brought their creations to the mainstream even if it wasn’t through their voices. A ton of people credit Elvis with the creation of Rock ‘n’ Roll when in reality it’s rooted in African American culture, Elvis is just responsible for bringing it to the mainstream. It doesn’t blindly praise him for that, it acknowledges where he got it from and highlights the community it originated from which I really appreciated. It could’ve also mentioned that he started dating Priscilla when she was 14 and he was in his 20s instead of making them look the same age but that’s another story.
When I heard this movie was nearly three hours long, I wasn’t really pleased, I don’t think anyone was. To be completely fair, however, while I did feel the length of the movie, I was never bored. The movie was consistently entertaining and well-paced. There was something happening constantly and through Baz Luhrmann’s signature visual style and pacing, the movie kept your attention the entire time, there are no pee breaks in ‘Elvis‘ because you might miss a couple months if you miss a scene. For a movie this long about the world’s first rockstar, it makes absolute sense that Luhrmann would direct, only he could pull this off. He doesn’t create a fantasy and he never glamorizes Elvis’ career but he views it through this fantastical perspective, almost like a fairy tale. It’s loud, vibrant and all over the place but it stays grounded when it needs to. The dialogue, cinematography, transitions and music choice are so out there and wild at times, I mean why are ‘Toxic‘ by Britney Spears and ‘I Want It That Way‘ by the Backstreet Boys in an Elvis movie? Why does Tom Hanks look and speak like that? It’s camp and it works in a way somehow but not totally and that’s honestly how I can describe this movie. It’s weird, it is hilarious and insane at times, it goes for whatever wild concepts come to mind and goes with them and I enjoyed that.
In the end, did I come out of the ‘Elvis’ movie as a new fan? Not really, I feel little to no urge to check out his music but I am glad that I saw this movie because I got to learn about him and because Austin Butler is in it and he is very good at his job. I would honestly rewatch it because it is a genuinely fun movie to watch especially with a group of friends and to be honest, it is one of the better biopics I’ve seen. It’s fun, fast-paced and features quite a special performance from Austin Butler who has a bright future ahead of him which is weird to say since I’ve known him from his appearances on multiple sitcoms from my childhood. All in all, ‘Elvis‘ provides one of the more unique movie-watching experiences of the year and for that alone, I would recommend it.
‘Elvis‘ is now showing in cinemas.