Working Title: ‘Elvis’ and why it falls flat

by Rachel Ning, TALON Business & PDA Manager

This is the fifth installment of “Working Title,” a podcast where staff member Rachel Ning shares her thoughts on select films and the film industry. In this episode, Rachel discusses the recent film “ELVIS” and her expectations for it that ultimately fell flat. 

Hello, and welcome to “Working Title,” a podcast where I take you through some of my favorite filmography finds and important pieces of visual media that I think deserve a moment to shine. 

I’m Rachel, and today’s episode is going to be reviewing the new 2022 release of “ELVIS,” starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks directed by Baz Luhrmann. I’ll just be going through my overall thoughts about it and why it just personally fell a little flat. I think just in general, there was a lot of hype that surrounded the movie even before it was released, just because of how heavily advertised it was, especially with Austin Butler being in the press really often. 

For those who don’t know, the movie is about Elvis Presley who is played by Austin Butler, as the title states. And it’s more or less a biopic, but it takes a more unique perspective because it doesn’t necessarily just take you through all of his his career and impact. But you view it through the eyes of his abusive manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who was played by Tom Hanks. You see the very abusive and selfish motivations that Tom Barker had to keep Elvis going and keep on performing, and that was to feed his gambling addiction. 

For those who don’t know, the movie is about Elvis Presley who is played by Austin Butler, as the title states. And it’s more or less a biopic, but it takes a more unique perspective because it doesn’t necessarily just take you through all of his his career and impact. But you view it through the eyes of his abusive manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who was played by Tom Hanks. You see the very abusive and selfish motivations that Tom Barker had to keep Elvis going and keep on performing, and that was to feed his gambling addiction. 

It’s that kind of movie that even when you’re watching it, all you’re doing is just sitting and taking in the content on the screen, but when you leave, if you really, really taxed like you just ran a marathon or something I don’t know. And I also left the theater feeling quite nauseous. I think it’s just because there’s just so much going on in this movie. It’s super Baz Luhmann and it’s kind of over-the-top displaying costumes, music and cinematography. He also tries to incorporate a lot of, I guess, modern artists, and have a new kind of, “remix” of it of Elvis’s music. And I think this is something that learns and tries to do a lot with his movies of like incorporating modern music into older period pieces. He also did this in his retelling of “The Great Gatsby” back in 2013, I believe. That was also received very starkly; a lot of people felt like it was kind of jarring and forced, and I also felt like that. 

I feel like the movie also barely accomplishes anything, which is something that I’ll get into later. Usually at certain points, the movie is stunning, but the storyline is quite messy. Some things I feel like they dragged on forever. But it also brushed over a lot of other stuff like his rise to fame, or the relationship he had with Priscilla Presley. The movie does fail to accurately portray the relationship he had with Priscilla, because in reality, their relationship was quite abusive and unhealthy, but the movie doesn’t really delve into that too much. And when they show them separating in the movie, they just kind of abruptly separate, and there isn’t really a train of thought as to why that happens. And obviously the audience is given enough content to work with to realize why Priscilla ultimately decides to leave.

I think it would have been interesting to inspect that aspect of Elvis’s life, personal life more too, and also Priscilla and Elvis’s relationship was quite predatory. Elvis met Priscilla when she was only about 14 and he was 24, and that also just isn’t really mentioned in the movie. So as I mentioned before, I feel like the movie doesn’t really accomplish anything.

Obviously, my opinion is one of millions that has been formed since watching this movie, but I think overall, the movie is an entire entity in and of itself with the way it moves and carries itself. It’s a really bright, colorful movie, and I think it is a good time, but it is easily forgettable”

This in the sense that, to put it plainly, it just didn’t feel like it did anything. There wasn’t a main message to it. It does show kind of this sexual charge and cultural shift that was caused in his performance, because the way he presented himself was more or less unparalleled in mainstream media, with the opening scene of the movie having all these girls suddenly go crazy over him. It also portrays this very tense relationship Elvis had with Colonel Tom Parker, but at the end of the day, the movie I think, was trying to do so much. It ended up really not saying anything at all. 

I also wanted to touch on the acting throughout the movie. First I’ll start with Tom Hanks, who plays Tom Parker. His accent is really strange, and I feel like it changes every 20 minutes. And Tom Parker originally I believe, was Dutch. His presence was super “icky” on screen and his acting didn’t feel as good as kind of that iconic Tom Hanks makes him up to be. And for being the narrator of the story, his voice is so unbearable that it makes you want to not listen to what he has to say. 

Now onto what I think is the big reason a lot of people are watching this movie, Austin Butler is Elvis. I think I might be in the minority when I say this, but I didn’t like this performance. A big thing about the whole movie was kind of the press that Austin Butler was doing and how he “lost himself completely in the role.” He just became Elvis and he still feels Elvis within him with his whole like accent thing. So with that much supposed prep, I think a lot of people are really satisfied with performance because of how immersive it felt to them. But for me, unfortunately, he felt very empty in his performance. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it felt like Austin Butler tried so hard to become Elvis, that he just ended up feeling really distant from him, kind of like the storyline. There are a few moments where his good acting shines through, but personally for me, I feel like his performance wasn’t that good on a level of being able to connect with him as an audience member and sort of sympathize with him. 

Other than Austin Butler and Tom Hanks no other performance really stood out. Olivia DeJonge plays Priscilla Presley though, and she was really good. I really wish again, Priscilla was able to play a bigger role in the movie because A) I was kind of expecting her to, and B) she really only got a few minutes, which I was also disappointed by. 

Obviously, my opinion is one of millions that has been formed since watching this movie, but I think overall, the movie is an entire entity in and of itself with the way it moves and carries itself. It’s a really bright, colorful movie, and I think it is a good time, but it is easily forgettable. Regardless, it’s definitely an early Oscars contender, so I’m interested to see how it continues to hold up through Oscar campaigning for the rest of the year. 

That’s my review on “Elvis,” and that’s all for this episode of “Working Title.” I hope you all enjoyed, make sure to tune in next time. Thanks for listening!