As long as I have been alive, which is exactly none of your business, Elvis has been perched upon a mountaintop in the sky, lording over us laymen like some omniscient grandpa. He’s the King and the Zeus of pop culture. I used to spend summers in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn. visiting my grandma, a massive Elvis fan—and the crazy cat lady of Memphis, because she owns a no-kill cat shelter and is notoriously awful to pretty much everyone who walks through the door. Great with cats—people, not so much!
When I was in town, I helped her take care of the cats, and on days off she took me to do classic Memphis shit like chilling at the Peabody hotel and making the short pilgrimage to Graceland. There are pictures of me standing next to the Lisa Marie airplane parked outside, next to the old ladies that walked through his home’s halls as if it were a cathedral Jesus Christ himself took a piss in. Clearly, I was being groomed to be an Elvis fan. But, like I said, my grandma is nuts and we grew apart, so for a while, Elvis went with her. Until I became a rocker with a libido.
See, as far as I can tell, the whole thing about Elvis is that everyone wanted to fuck him. Yes, he was a gifted performer and singer, and yes, the image of him as a bloated drug addict in a rhinestone suit passed out on a toilet has penetrated the collective unconscious (he also might be more collectible figurine than man at this point), but Elvis was fucking hot. When he first appeared on the scene, he was all bright-eyed and lithe, balls brimming with fresh cum, a lightning rod channeling pure God-tier fuckboy energy, fusing together the quiet heartache of white America’s country music and the hot-blooded explosiveness of Black America’s rhythm and blues. So, going into my assignment to watch and write about ELVIS, the movie, my primary focus was this: Will they keep him plastic and pristine or will they bring him to life? And more importantly, will I want to fuck this Elvis?
That question was answered before the movie even started, when the theater aired one of Austin Butler’s screen tests. (Butler is the 30-year-old actor tasked with portraying the panty-dropper.) In it, our King was decked out in peak young Elvis drag, playing guitar and singing “That’s Alright Mama.” It fucking ripped. It genuinely felt like I was watching Elvis on that screen, in some candid natural moment backstage when the cameras weren’t around and he wasn’t being drowned out by the white noise of screaming fans.
I made multiple comments aloud indicating that I was aroused, much to the dismay of the man I had brought along as my date. So, mission accomplished. (Sorry, Adam.) Two-and-a-half hours later, there are a few other things I can tell you about this movie, but none are as important as the fact that Austin Butler as Elvis is an absolute triumph from the jump. That has to be as clear as moonshine.
Okay, so, ELVIS the movie is about [Presley’s manager] Colonel Tom Parker (portrayed by Tom Hanks) as much, if not more, it is about Elvis. Their symbiotic relationship is the focal point of the entire thing and Hanks’ Parker is the narrator throughout. It was a smart aesthetic choice for director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby) to focus on the fact that Elvis’s manager had a carnie circuit background and was this mysterious, European con artist, but it was a mistake for the film. I can hear Luhrmann, clear as day, at a meeting in a Hollywood boardroom, like, “Guys, we’re gonna have Tom Hanks play this carnie manager, which will give me the opportunity I need to flex my stylistic dick muscles. In the meantime, we’re gonna leave Elvis and this kid [Butler] who spent the last three years methodically studying him out to dry.” The hodgepodge European accent soup Hanks was doing was downright grating, comically so, and there was nothing believable about Hanks stuffed with fat suit padding, hobbling around like Humpty Dumpty and snapping his suspenders like some bad cartoon.
The movie even kicks off with a scene set inside a snowglobe, because whenever Colonel Parker brought in big money for Elvis, they said they had “made it snow.” Literally WHO CARES? If that had been the only obnoxious thing about ELVIS, I could live with it, but of course it was not because it was directed by Baz Luhrmann. Being obnoxiously gaudy and over the top is his entire bag. Like, I get it Baz. You love breakneck packing and whiplash edits. You love to insert aggressively out of place modern musical moments into big scenes that are typically associated with a specific era long past. Big juxtaposition, much Art.
But there is no planet on which Doja Cat’s demented sexy baby voice has any business in a movie about Elvis, yet I am being subjected to it nonetheless. Fuck you. Even the use of one of the most beloved pop songs of all time, “Toxic” by Britney Spears, felt like a tepid slap in the face with a wet towel. It just didn’t make any goddamn sense and I hated it. Dude was just throwing things against the wall to see what stuck and pretty much nothing did except for Butler’s fine ass. It’s sad because if everyone just let the kid act, to fully realize the Elvis that was so clearly brimming behind his eyes whenever he was on screen, this whole thing could’ve been a visionary success. But watching Colonel Parker waddle around defending himself in that god awful accent for two hours like Donald Trump bitching about some nonexistent witch hunt was more important. I guess. Sad!
Dude was just throwing things against the wall to see what stuck and pretty much nothing did except for Butler’s fine ass
Then there’s the whole “Elvis stole his schtick from Black performers” thing, which was woven into the narrative in a very woo-woo way. Basically, a kid version of Elvis “catches the spirit,” his sexuality is activated, and for the rest of the movie Black characters pop in and out to pat him on the back and reassure the audience that everybody loved Elvis except for the uptight old white men who punished him for dancing by shipping him off to war. (You know, despite the fact that Black Americans literally invented rock ’n’ roll.) Maybe that’s all true. Maybe it isn’t. There wasn’t much fat to chew on either way.
The film’s entire take can be summed up by one scene, where the country boys in Parker’s carnival circuit hear “That’s Alright Mama” on the radio for the first time and are flabbergasted when someone says, aghast, “HE’S WHITE!” They also totally glide over the fact that Priscilla Presley was like 13 when Elvis started seeing her but chalk it up to it being “a different time.” Olivia DeJonge’s portrayal of Priscilla was captivating and graceful, though. I found myself feeling very tender toward young Priscilla, who had to muster an incredible amount of strength to endure life beside a man as famous and troubled as Elvis, and ultimately, leave him.
All in all, ELVIS is a big budget, flashy film with all the bells and whistles one should expect from a movie about the king of rock ’n’ roll. And it is entertaining, though often for the wrong reasons. The one, truly, purely good thing about this movie is the way Austin Butler brings Elvis crashing to life through the big screen, not a myth but a man, a real flesh and blood man who embodied the meaning of the word “charisma” perhaps more than anyone else ever has. It’s all there: the quivering voice, the gyrations, the aching and seductive facial expressions that brought millions literally to their knees. From the moment we meet Elvis, the superhero performer, on the country carnie circuit in 1956, to the reenactment of his infamous 1968 comeback special, Butler captures it all to perfection.
There were moments where I forgot I was watching a movie and not the real thing, and that’s a miraculous feat accomplished by Butler in spite of Luhrmann’s manic, self-centered direction. In the moments when Butler was able to hip-thrust his way through the noise, the young actor brought so much palpable humanity to this nausea-inducing Tilt-A-Whirl of a movie that I wanted to give them both a hug and a handjob. Both being Elvis and Butler. I’m not into necrophilia (long live the King) but if anyone reading this knows Austin Butler, tell him the offer stands.