geezer cinema: elvis (baz luhrmann, 2022)
Thursday, July 14, 2022
It's an understatement to note that I expected to hate this movie. I love Elvis, but I generally dislike biopics, and I found the previews suspicious ... they made it look like the movie was going to be about Col. Parker. Well, it's still a biopic, but Baz Luhrmann does what he can to distract us from the shortcomings of the genre. And the Colonel is the villain of the piece, as he should be, and he's not as important as the previews suggest. Oh, he's the narrator of the film, and he probably thinks he is the center of the story, but Luhrmann ensures that we don't go along with Parker's delusion.
But most importantly, Austin Butler is a revelation as Elvis. The only thing I'd seen him in was Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, but then, everyone was in that movie, and I can't say I remember Butler, who played Tex. Biopics are made for Oscar nominees ... last year alone, six of the ten nominees for Best Actor/Actress played real people. You come close to imitating the actual person, and you get attention for "acting". It's not impossible to actually be good in such circumstances, but the temptation to fake it with makeup and an accent must be enormous. (Just ask Tom Hanks as Tom Parker.) Butler gets the imitation part right ... he has clearly studied the King in depth, he has the moves, he has the smile, he has the voice ... he is even believable as a singer. What raises Butler's performance above the average biopic Oscar bait is that his Elvis is a real person. Butler gives us an actual character of some depth. He doesn't just rely on the makeup and the costumes. It's quite impressive.
You could say I know the story of Elvis pretty well (I even wrote my honors thesis for my bachelor's degree on Elvis). Yes, Luhrmann farts around with chronology, he doesn't always get things right in the sense of being accurate. But he comes close enough. The importance of the 1968 TV special is properly emphasized. Luhrmann pussyfoots around issues of race ... he does a decent job of showing Elvis' musical and cultural roots, but he could have done more to examine the negative aspects of cultural appropriation. But he mostly shits on Col. Tom, and he gives Butler room to give us a memorable Elvis. I'm glad I saw it.
This was the 150th Geezer Cinema Movie, starting three years ago, where my wife and I have a weekly date at the movies, taking turns picking what we watch. Here is a Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.