Baz Luhrmann's Elvis
Well this past Saturday, the kids were away for the night, so we took the opportunity to sneak off and see a movie. We dressed ourselves up like real people for once and went out for a nice dinner, then ended up at the Downtown Cinema for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, and while I have very mixed feelings about, but I liked it overall.
Even with all it’s flaws (which were numerous and glaring), I love the artistic vision and originality that Luhrmann brings to his films. The bombastic flurry of over-the-top imagery, the anachronistic musical numbers, and the un-apologetically bold framework for this story were refreshing and much appreciated, because I don’t have it in me to sit through another Marvel movie or another dull reboot. This film really stands out in the current cinematic landscape, earning it a lot of points for style.
With all of that said, Elvis still failed to land a spot in my top three Baz Luhrmann films. I'm not crazy about Luhrmann's films, but I do really appreciate his unique approach to story-telling. It's been a while since I've seen Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, but I want to say those remain at number one and two, respectively. The Great Gatsby is currently sitting at number three. I'd put Elvis decidedly below Gatsby, and I think the only BL film I've seen other than those would be Australia. I think I actually liked Australia, but it ranks last for me because it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen it and I can’t remember the first thing about it, so it couldn’t have been terribly memorable.
The biggest sore spot in this film for me was Tom Hanks. Hanks was an absolutely terrible casting choice. I couldn't take him seriously, and I had literally over two and a half hours to get used to that distracting accent. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Putting Tom Hanks in a fat-suit and giving him a thick vaguely-Dutch accent felt about as believable as Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka for me. With one of the most distinctive voices and most recognizable faces in the world, altering both landed Hanks right smack at the deepest point of the "uncanny valley" where I simply could not find a way to suspend my disbelief no matter how hard I tried (and from the reviews, I am far from alone in this). Additionally, Hanks' accent didn't sound Dutch at all, or at least not like any Dutchies I know.
Austin Butler was phenomenal. I had no idea who this guy was, so maybe that made it easier for me to see him as Elvis, but he really just lived in the role. Though he doesn't particularly look like Elvis, he embodied something truly special in this film. He was magnetic, spectacular, and really, really likeable. Unfortunately, there were a lot of trademarks Elvis was known for that we didn't get to see in the film. Unless I missed it, I don't think we ever heard him say "taking care of business", and we definitely didn't get to see him enjoying a peanutbutter and banana sandwich, which were more disappointing to me than I would have expected, but still, I'm not mad about it.
As expected, there was no pretense of reality or accuracy in this film, so I was able to just sit back and enjoy the show without worrying about whether or not Elvis was really like that, or would have really said that. As I watched, I just assumed that none of what I was watching actually happened, or at least not in the way it was portrayed. It was a given right out of the gate that this was not going to be that sort of movie, and it certainly was not.
Probably the most notable example of a major liberty taken was the love story between Elvis and Priscilla. Priscilla was portrayed as the love of his life, and his mostly exclusive partner throughout his life. Of course, even those who know very little about Elvis at least know that he had many, many girlfriends, was the very epitome of a womanizer, and that he had other high-profile relationships that weren't even hinted at in this film. This is not surprising at all however, as Priscilla Presley was highly involved in helping Baz Luhrmann "fact-check" Elvis' story for the film. This didn't really bother me, as the film was highly selective on which elements of Elvis' life it wanted to focus on, and it definitely painted everything in a very creative light with little regard for accuracy.
The other major sore spot for me was the fact that the editors were apparently trying to keep the cutting room floor spotless. They could (and really should) have cut at least an hour off of this film. It was so on the surface, keeping you out of the characters' heads, focusing instead on their outfits, their energy, their place in the culture, their personas, that you never really connect or understand any of them. That's fine, but it gives you the impression you're watching an incredibly long music video instead of a film. Additionally, this was an exhausting film to watch. It seems this was done intentionally, and you feel the stress and the exhaustion of Col. Parker working Elvis into the ground as he devolves into an overweight, depressed, lonesome drug-addict. While I do appreciate the way Luhrmann was able to bring the audience into this gilded cage, and show us just how exhausting it was to be caught in the machine, it was not a pleasant place to be. Somehow the movie alternated between beautiful/boring/fun/frustrating, and always exhausting. I think it must have been at about the two hour mark when I, despite genuinely enjoying the movie, seriously considered walking out—not out of protest or boredom, but because it was just a lot to take. It felt like a theme park ride that I really enjoyed for the first five minutes, but after two hours I didn't care how great it was, I just didn't want to be strapped in anymore.
More than anything, this film was an experience. It really was more like “Elvis, The Ride” than it was a serious biopic, and it was a pretty entertaining one at that. So far people seem to be either loving it or hating it, but somehow, I ended up somewhere in the middle.