Elvis Review: Baz Luhrmann’s Delirious Biopic Is Bohemian Rhapsody Bad

Cannes: Austin Butler gives a performance worthy of the King, but he is buried alive under a Rhine rock wave of weak biofilm tropes.

“It doesn’t matter if you do 10 stupid things, as long as you do one wise thing,” Colonel Tom Parker advises us near the beginning of Baz Luhrmannthe completely confusing musical biofilm about the King of Rock & Roll, but even a proportion that forgiveness would still leave “Elvis”About 370“ smart ”in short. If only this 159-minute glimpse – a sadistically monotonous super-montage in which a strange Flemish guy was manipulating some naive young smuggler over and over and over again until they were both sad and dead – would be kind enough to be so brief in any other relationship. .

Luhrmann is perhaps one of the most unstoppable maximists the films have ever known, and his new work is perhaps the most visually anarchic Hollywood film since Wachowski’s 2008 “Speed ​​Racer.” But it is hard to find even an ironic enjoyment in something so high on its own supply; something far less interested in how its namesake has broken the rules than it is in how its director does, and something tirelessly unable to find any meaningful overlap between the two.

Indeed, “Elvis” adores his style so much and is so disinterested in his subject that “Baz” would be a more appropriate title for it. Why deliriously basic music biofilm spinning over time at 60 million RPM takes longer to give Elvis Presley the “Bohemian Rhapsody” treatment than Luhrmann needed to adapt “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Great Gatsby” or the whole continent “Australia “”? Because the “Moulin Rouge!” director – despite his obvious love for Elvis, and his trustworthy endeavor to worship the rock god as he saw fit – can’t help but take advantage of Presley’s iconography in a similarly self-serving way when Parker exploited his talent.

Unbound by the narrative barriers of Puccini’s opera, Shakespeare’s tragedy or one of the darkest novels of the 20th century, Luhrmann is free to remix the life and times of Elvis in a Las Vegas magazine that draws attention to the filmmaker’s extraordinary genius while also painfully enabling. his own addiction to excess. Even in homage, this insane jukebox musical only sees Presley as a means to an end – like a hip-shaking puppet on a string. Which may explain why Luhrmann was forced to make Colonel Tom Parker the main character of his Elvis movie, “Elvis,” which the trailers suggested was about someone named Elvis.

This may not be the stupidest thing Elvis does, but it’s the stupid thing no amount of “wise men” can balance. Luhrmann loves himself as a narrator – a layer of distance between abundance and tragedy – and theoretically, there’s no reason why one of pop culture’s most pivotal over-and-fall stories couldn’t be told through the eyes of the Mephistopheles-like Svengali who launched. Presley into the air and left him there in a constant state of vertigo.

Sure, on paper this sounds about as appealing as a Britney Spears biofilm narrated by her father. And sure enough, on the screen it’s even worse. But it is not impossible to see the allure of placing an iconoclastic anti-authoritarian like Elvis in the shadow of the man who controlled him. Even the king bowed to someone, and Luhrmann’s dizzying script (co-written by Sam Bromell, Jeremy Doner, and Craig Pearce) often returns to the idea that Presley’s life was caught in the shootout between two different Americas: One turning towards freedom, and the other turning it off.

The problem here is that Colonel Parker de Luhrmann – Tom Hanks in a “true true” presentation defined by a thick suit, fake nose and an accent that I can only describe as the “Kentucky Fried Goldmember” – is perhaps the most unbearable film. character once conceived. The guy makes Jar-Jar Binks look like Elliott Gould in “The Long Goodbye.” It was as if Luhrmann was watching Hanks’ presentation of “The Lady Slayers” and thought, “All right, what if, but sometimes 100 and for almost three whole hours?”

“Elvis” – and I’d like to joke about it – is portrayed as Colonel Parker’s dream before he died. Take it. Honestly, it’s hard to tell where you are or in what context during a movie that spins around like roulette (often too literally) and only slows down for a small handful of appropriate scenes along the way. One second, Colonel Parker wanders around Las Vegas Hospital like an old man, and the next, we’re in full “Nightmare Alley” territory as the music impresario rolls through some hick marketplace and hears a hot new song on the radio while searching for his next carnival rogue .

Too bad Black shares don’t sell. Wait a minute! [the camera zooms in on Parker’s neck sweat, spins 360 degrees, speed-ramps through several different frame rates, invents six entirely new aspect ratios, and then lands on the prosthetic nose that only skirts anti-Semitism because no one knows for sure if the Colonel was Jewish] “He’s whhhhyyyyyiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittteee !?” [cash registers, fireworks, time moves in 12 directions at once, you see the moment of your own birth and death unfolding on a Brian de Palma split-screen]. Cut to: Elvis playing “That’s All Right” in a oversized pink costume as a concert for a few local teenage girls suddenly becomes that scene from “Scanners”.

This will not be the last time Luhrmann acknowledges his subject’s often-discussed role in the history of American race relations – just wait until the feverish sequence in which the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is framed as something that actually happened to Elvis Presley, and made him feel very sad – but it’s safe to assume that “Elvis” is less interested in the cultural etymology of Presley’s music than it is in the way that rigid ribbons of black and white hair falls across Austin Butler’s face every time he sweetens chatter. into a microphone.

In fairness to Luhrmann, it is quite visible. Butler’s flawless Presley impersonation would be the best thing about this film even if it stopped at mimicry, but the actor does more than just nail Presley’s singing voice and stage presence; he also manages to challenge them, slipping free of iconography and giving the film a chance to create a new emotional context for a man who has been frozen in time since before Luhrmann’s target audience was born.

It’s an opportunity the director rejects every time. His Elvis never becomes his own man. Instead, he evolves from an avatar for post-war America to a helpless drug addict trapped in a golden cage. He has no option of agency in either regime; pin-balling through the years and bouncing from one superimposed newspaper headline to the next, Elvis doesn’t come off as someone who transformed the 20th century as much as he does someone who watched it faint around him and then force him out. No wonder Elvis and Forrest Gump seem to continue to cross paths.

Rather than carve out a meaningful path to guide Elvis through history, Luhrmann simply floats him through the years on a raft of non-stop music that pushes into an endless series of biographical clichés at the speed of light into the next until it finally overturns a few decades later. . The action moves so fast, and with so little weight, that I literally miss Elvis ’mom’s death.

Then again, I almost never clocked that she was alive in the first place. I only marked his dad because Vernon is played by Luhrmann regular Richard Roxburgh, while Olivia DeJonge’s Priscilla jumps from a military buffoon to a shrewd mom without stopping to land anywhere in between. Sometimes they mention Graceland, so there’s probably a scene where they buy it? I suppose I simply forgot such a detail in the obscurity of it all, if not for the fact that Elvis’s entire film career is compressed into a single line of Colonel Parker’s storytelling, which I transcribed literally for my sins: “I made him .the highest paid actor in Hollywood history, and we had a lot of fun. ” Terrible food, and such small portions.

The songs themselves can be exciting when they are anchored in reality – the late scene in which zekinized Elvis empowers his way through “Suspicious Minds” is almost strong enough to give the character his own soul – but most of them come from nowhere , floating randomly from the ether as if from a broken disk. There’s no moment in Elvis ’film actually creating anything; he is just a sexual oracle, receiving music from the collective unconscious and trembling through his body.

It’s as if Presley’s songs always exist, and Luhrmann’s job is just to make them new again. The director’s anachronistic talent has always been a key part of his appeal, but here – listening to Doja Cat rap over “Live Las Vegas,” which sounds pretty good – it’s hard not to suspect that his orgy gaiety may have stemmed from a lack of faith. in the ability of a modern audience to link to this theme. If Luhrmann had trusted us to take care of Elvis Presley, his film would have found the confidence to try. Instead, Colonel Parker becomes the ultimate culprit; it’s good that Elvis doesn’t have any visible identity because this is a movie about the cartoon chicken seller who stole it from him.

Luhrmann’s sensory overload resulted in some of the faintest electric moments in modern cinema, from the fishbow sequence in “Romeo + Juliet” to the elephant confusion in “Moulin Rouge!” and that wonderful party sequence in “The Great Gatsby,” but the hyper-romantic energy of those films helped weave the present into the past in a way that made them both feel more alive. “Elvis” discovers such a purpose. It finds so little reason for Presley’s life to be the thing of Baz Luhrmann’s film that the equation finally reverses itself, leaving us with an Elvis Presley film about Baz Luhrmann. They both deserve better.

Grade: D

“Elvis” premiered in 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Warner Bros. will release it in theaters on Friday, June 24th.

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