Elvis Presley is certainly a polarizing figure in music, so it’s only fitting that his latest biopic was directed by an additionally polarizing director. Baz Luhrmann, known for Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby has one of the most recognizable styles of any director working today. By “style” I mean rapid, fast cuts, erratic editing, bright and flashy colors, and unbridled pandemonium. He directs all of his films like a high energy music video, which…there’s a reason most music videos are only 3 minutes long. It can definitely become grating over the course of 2 and a half hours, and Elvis is certainly no exception. Yet this in-your-face approach to storytelling does work surprisingly well at times, elevating an otherwise run of the mill biopic to an occasionally entertaining bit of eye candy.
But let’s start with the thing that will absolutely make or break your musical biopic; the performance of the lead actor. Relative newcomer Austin Butler had a hell of a task ahead of him to harness Presley’s likeness and talent, and my god, did he deliver. Butler not only does a fantastic job at harnessing the unbridaled showmanship of the late great Elvis, but also manages to ground the icon in a way that avoids common cliches and surface level interpretations. From the singing to the dancing to just the way that he talks, Butler has impressed the hell out of me with his commitment to accuracy and the insane amount of musical talent he’d have to possess to make this possible. This must be the film starring Barbara Streisand that Elvis turned down, because a star is born.
Speaking of stars, Tom Hanks is here too!
Damn dude. Look, I do think this performance is going to be overtly hated. I can’t say it’s “good”, but Hanks does his best with what he’s given. Is the accent hokey? Yeah, but hokey doesn’t bother me as much if there’s a decent script giving that accent engaging and enjoyable words to say. It’s not quite Jared Leto in House of Gucci bad, but I do think Hanks can’t be the only one at fault here. I will say it’s an interesting approach to telling the story by having it be told from the point of view of someone famously known for manipulating Elvis, but it ultimately does make the audience feel a bit distant from the title character. It works in the beginning when Elvis is presented as this mysterious, almost mythological creature, but for the rest of the movie it really hindered my attachment to that character at moments.
Butler’s performance as Elvis is certainly the highlight, both from a physical point of view and a musical point of view. The soundtrack here is classic Luhrmann, utilizing a mix of old and new music while also remixing and re-approaching some Elvis classics. It does make the film feel a bit jarring at times, but I think it tends to work better here than its use in, say, The Great Gatsby. The rest of Luhrmann’s usual tricks in his tool kit contribute to the mess in a similar fashion, most noticeably the editing and pacing. Like I said before, the film rarely slows down, moving from different periods in Elvis’s life at breakneck speeds, yet it still manages to go on and on and on way more than it should. The beginning of the film is told in a disjointed, fractured style that I actually found kind of interesting for a biopic, but once the film moves to a more linear style of storytelling, the fervent energy just doesn’t connect as well as it did. Luhrmann at least recognizes moments where he needs to pump the breaks and let us sit inside these scenes of heavy emotion, something I thought he did fairly well with Moulin Rouge. There’s some solid emotional moments here, even if they’re a bit cliche. Ultimately that’s the problem with essentially every modern musical biopic. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story really did kill every biopic that would come after due to it pointing out the repetitive nature of many of these movies. This film at least manages to avoid many of those egregious cliches, but it’s not completely void of them either. It’s certainly more lively than Bohemian Rhapsody, but not as creative in it’s approach as Rocketman. Luhrmann does his best to inject his flashy style into this story, but when you look at it a little closer, you see that it doesn’t go nearly as deep or introspective into it’s legend’s more complicated talking points, like the connection between Elvis’s fame and his “hijacking” of black music. It all feels a bit too safe and sterile, which, when you have the living family only giving you the greenlight when the film is to their liking, you can’t really expect much more.
If you are a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s past films you may find yourself enjoying this, though you may find it’s story to not be nearly as interesting as his past work. Be sure to buckle up for the long haul, because the second you start to come out of the ethereal high the film’s visuals put you in, you’ll begin to notice just how much the film can drag on.
With all pop culture legends, there’s a sort of mysticism to their habits off-stage. With Elvis there’s a lot of speculation around his love life, potential ties to the mafia, and even the idea that he faked his own death and may still be walking around amongst us. All of these are of course unproven, but there’s one concrete element that has persisted across almost all takes of the King, and that was his love for a peanut butter and banana sandwich. The recipe for this particular sandwich will sometimes vary depending on who you ask, but peanut butter and banana are always present and are what I’ve focused this cocktail around. For the base spirits I’ve gone with a mix between scotch and peanut butter whiskey (done to cut down on the powerful flavors of the peanut butter whiskey), with additional flavors coming from banana liqueur and honey, and then given an additional body with some cream to make this flavorful, sweet and savory. To top it off, I’ve gone with a banana wheel and a strip of bacon (an oft debated addition to Presley’s favorite sandwiches) that not only gives you something to snack on, but also adds a new aromatic element that heightens the presence of the banana flavors and adds a salty element to each sip. Woah mama.
- 1.5oz scotch
- 1/2oz peanut butter whiskey
- 3/4oz banana liqueur
- 1/2 oz honey
- 1/2oz cream
- Chocolate syrup (for bottom of glass)
- Garnish: Banana slice
- Garnish: Bacon strip (cooked)
- Add ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Before pouring into glass, line bottom of rocks glass with chocolate syrup.
- Open pour into prepared glass, adding more ice if necessary.
- Garnish with banana slice and bacon strip on toothpick.
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