BazLuhrmann's Elvis Movie starring Austin Butler and TomHanks is now playing in theaters.

What We Thought of Elvis (Hot Takes Included)

Oh, how futile it must have felt to keep young people of the 1950s from watching Elvis Presley as he broke through the impenetrable wall of conservatism, and unleashed heart-pounding, exhilarating music—laying the foundation for what we love today

When we first get to witness Austin Butler’s hip thrusting in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, we are immediately reminded that there had never been someone quite like that Presley.

However, the movie's directing betrays an acute awareness of the underlying causes of Elvis’ stardom...

The 2022 biopic refuses to shy away from the fact that his rise to fame was fueled, at least in the beginning, entirely by the repressed sexual desires of every woman in America—and the lack of opportunity for Black artists, from whom he “borrowed” a massive portion of his material. 

Before Elvis, rock n’ roll and Blues were both performed and consumed exclusively by Black Americans. Mr. Presley’s exposure was simply an attempt to market that music to a wider audience, and it comes as no surprise that he took off.

Elvis was not the only person who was “ready to fly,” but he was the only one who was allowed to. 

The origin of Elvis’ “unique” sound provides interesting insights into the career of the best-selling solo artists of all time.

The film respectfully clarifies that although Elvis was a talented musician and a brilliant performer, he would not be the icon he is today without being able to stand on the shoulders of giants, the names of which many people will never learn.

These artists include Big Mama Thornton, B.B. King, and Little Richard, all of whom were expertly portrayed in the film by actors who deserved far more screen time than they got.

Although the historical aspects of Elvis are handled very well by Luhrmann and his exceptionally talented writers’ cohort, the film suffers where Luhrmann’s other works have suffered; they have the most distracting pacing of any repertoire of films by a single director. 

Baz is an artist who got his start in the designer world—so he's bound to have an affinity for the extravagant.

Baz Luhrmann during a red carpet event before the screening for the new biopic movie 'Elvis' at Graceland. (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal)

And nobody does it like him; see Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, and Romeo & Juliet for reference. However, this creative attribute does not always bode well when trying to tell a story. The frequent cuts to black in the first 30 seconds of the film set the tone for the rest of it by showing the viewer they are in for a very bumpy ride.

I would look at Elvis as a film composed of brief acts in which important things happen separated by flashy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it montages.

My hot takes conclude that:

  • Well-acted emotional beats feel as if they had come from nowhere, because they lack the emotional depth of scenes propped up by the well-laid context of  slower, smaller films.
  • Characters that appear in these scenes are constantly competing with one another in a battle-for-relevance that often makes Elvis feel like an overly ambitious intro to a sitcom about the singer’s life.
  • Characters and events that played a significant part in Elvis’ story are often introduced only to be forgotten about moments later. 

This is not to be fully blamed on the creatives, however. They tried to take on the colossal task of telling a comprehensive narrative based on one of the most eventful and nuanced lives ever lived by a global superstar.

As alluded to above, Screen time is my main qualm with Elvis.

There is a significant amount of it— 2 hours and 39 minutes to be exact—which is not being used as effectively as it should be. 

We never fully explore Elvis’ love of Captain Marvel Jr. and his journey to the Rock of Eternity, which would have tied his whole story together nicely by relating it to the legacy he was able to create.

Additionally, Alton Mason’s captivating take on Little Richard and Shonka Dukureh’s fiercely dynamic Big Mama Thornton among others were used to spectacular effect before being forgotten by the creative team moments later. 

This is all to say that Elvis had an extensive list of very liquid assets that were taken for granted. 

These characters and themes could have helped Luhrmann create a cohesive story instead of an overwhelming immersion into the entirety of Elvis’ life.

At the end of the day, Elvis is a good movie.

It contains extraordinary performances by every cast member, and has plenty of that Baz Luhrmann flare that has made his previous films so iconic. The screenwriting shows glimpses of genius that are drowned out by the volume of notable events in Elvis’ life, and the music is just… fabulous.

When one makes a movie about someone as instrumental in forging our mainstream pop culture as Elvis, it should be handled with the utmost care and respect for the subject—and it is clear that Baz Luhrmann cared a great deal.

Elvis is a fascinating take on the best-selling solo recording artist of all time, and despite its noticeable structural flaws, I strongly urge anyone who is interested in his story or music in general to take it for a spin.

Dive deeper into elvis' live by visiting the king's living quarters.

Discover Graceland today!

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