Elvis Parent Guide
This could be Tom Hanks's worst film but Austin Butler gives a dynamic performance as the King.
Parent Movie Review
We all know Elvis – or think we do. I’m old enough to remember Elvis Presley as a bloated punchline in a bedazzled jumpsuit, but my memory doesn’t reach back to his early years. Baz Lurhmann’s biopic fills that gap, giving moviegoers a young, vibrant Elvis (Austin Butler) whose explosive performances fuse together white country music and Black rhythm and blues, creating something wholly new and completely irresistible to hordes of screaming fans.
Musical biopics come in two forms: a tragedy showing the fall of a talented artist or a redemption story in which the performer overcomes inner demons and rebuilds a career. As we all know, Elvis is a tragedy. What director Baz Lurhmann tries to do in this film is uncover the reasons behind the artist’s fall. Was Elvis destroyed by his insatiable need for adulation? Did his prescription drug abuse shatter his health? Or was he worked to death by his exploitative manager, Colonel Tom Parker?
Perhaps the worst decision Lurhmann makes in this film is to tell the story from the perspective of Colonel Parker, as played by Tom Hanks. The emphasis on the relationship between Elvis and Parker is intriguing but this directorial choice ultimately weakens the film. Frankly, Elvis is vastly more interesting than Parker, and every time the camera moves away from the singer, the movie flags. Not even Tom Hanks can save the script; in fact, this might be the actor’s worst film. Tom Hanks is a great performer, but he struggles to separate mimicry from portrayal when depicting a real person. Every time Hanks opens his mouth, it feels like he’s delivering a bad impersonation. It’s a huge buzz-kill for the movie.
Also problematic is Lurhmann’s chaotic editing style. I’m not sure if he’s trying to reproduce the disorientation of a brightly colored fairground or to reflect the increasing fragmentation of Elvis’s life, but the editing often feels disjointed and haphazard. It’s also too loose. At 159 minutes, this movie is punishingly long: reducing the focus on Parker and tightening the editing would trim the bloated runtime.
Hardcore Elvis fans won’t care about any of the preceding issues; they’re just here for the music. There’s a raw energy to the King’s music that is best appreciated in concert and Austin Butler does a superb job as Elvis, throwing his all into the stage performances. You don’t even have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy the musical spots in the film, which just might convert moviegoers to the singer’s back catalogue.
Fans will also be pleased with the mostly positive portrayals of their musical idol. The film casts Elvis as a proponent of racial equality, largely due to his comfort in Black spaces and his appreciation/appropriation of Black music. In addition, the script politely glosses over the beginnings of his relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu, which began when she was only 14 and he was ten years older. There’s an “ick” factor there that is neatly whitewashed away.
What isn’t cleaned up in the movie is Elvis’s drug use, which is clearly shown to be destructive. Another big issue for most parents is sexual content, with repeated scenes of Elvis gyrating during performances. The camera focuses tightly on his crotch and then on hysterical, screaming girls who are clearly “all shook up”.
I’m not certain if a younger generation will appreciate Elvis, but Luhrmann’s colorful, frenetic production might be the introduction they need. As for the silver-haired audience that attended the advance showing I saw, their applause at the end of the movie clearly demonstrated that Austin Butler managed to satisfactorily fill the King’s blue suede shoes.Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge. Running time: 159 minutes. Theatrical release June 24, 2022. Updated June 24, 2022
Watch the trailer for Elvis
Rating & Content Info
Why is Elvis rated PG-13? Elvis is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking
Violence: An angry man throws objects around a hotel room. There are brief television news clips about the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
Sexual Content: There are very frequent shots of a performer dancing extremely suggestively: the camera focuses in tightly as he swivels his pelvis. There are brief shots of a man removing some of a woman’s clothes. Sex is implied but not seen. Women throw their underclothes at a performer on stage. Adultery is mentioned. A woman is seen wearing nothing but a bra and panties.
Profanity: The film contains approximately three dozen profanities, including a single sexual expletive, three scatological curses, 17 terms of deity, and 15 minor profanities. Black Americans are referred to as “negroes”. A homophobic slur is used. A crude term for women is heard.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters smoke cigarettes and cigars. People drink alcohol, sometimes to manage stress. Adults are sometimes seen as intoxicated. A main character abuses prescription drugs. A doctor unethically gives a man drugs. A man is given morphine in an ambulance.
Page last updated June 24, 2022
Elvis Parents' Guide
After watching the movie, what’s your verdict on Colonel Tom Parker? Do you think he’s at least partially responsible for Elvis’s death? Or do you think Elvis’s inner demons would have killed him eventually?
To read more about Elvis and his legacy, try these links:
Wikipedia: Elvis Presley
The Washington Post: Should Elvis’s Legacy Live On?
For more information about Tom Parker you can follow these links:
Ultimate Classic Rock: Was Colonel Tom Parker the Villain “Elvis” Makes Him Out To Be?
Wikipedia: Colonel Tom Parker
Elvis grew up in the highly segregated world of the South, but he appreciated the musical and cultural world of his Black neighbors. Do you think Elvis adapted or appropriated the music around him? Do you think his success blazed the way for Black performers or do you think he occupied their space?