Baz Luhrmann tackling the life of one of America’s most famous, revolutionary, and tragic musical figures was never going to be a straight putt, critics-wise; Luhrmann is too in love with his own impulses, and Elvis Presley was too large and strange a figure, for Elvis to ever be a straightforward crowd pleaser.
That being said, the film’s critical appraisal at its ovation-nabbing premiere at Cannes today has come with some weird dips and caveats. Not for star Austin Butler, mind you—pretty much everyone who’s seen the film to date has been charmed by Butler, highlighting how his performance as The King only gets more interesting as the man’s decay truly sets in the late ’60s and ’70s
No, the majority of people’s issues with the movie seem to have been the same question that’s haunted people since the first trailers for the movie were released: What, exactly, the fuck is Tom Hanks doing in this thing?
Hanks, of course, plays Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager/parasitewho Luhrmann’s screenplay—which arrives with a whole forest of names attached to it in the film’s credits—places at the center of Elvis’ story, for some reason. We’re going to take a second and just quote David Ehrlich’s gorgeously nasty pan of the film for IndieWire here for a secondbecause it really is as mean a thing as we’ve ever seen said about Tom Hanks:
Tom Hanks in a “true true” performance defined by a fat suit, a fake nose, and an accent that I can only describe as the “Kentucky Fried Goldmember” is possibly the most insufferable movie character ever conceived… It’s as if Luhrmann watched Hanks’ performance from The Ladykillers and thought: “OK, what if that, but times 100 and for almost three entire hours?”
Other writers were kinder, although THR also highlighted the strangeness of telling the story of one of the most appealing men in music history through the eyes of one of the least. (“Arguably the least appealing performance of [Hanks’] career,” David Rooney writes, “A creepy, beady-eyed leer from under a mountain of latex, with a grating, unidentifiable accent that becomes no less perplexing even after the character’s murky Dutch origins have been revealed.”)
Luhrmann himself comes in for more mixed reviews; Deadline and others highlight the film’s high velocityracing throughan almost Wikipedia-like account” of Presley’s life, while the aesthetics of the film are praised for matching Elvis’ own sense of rhinestone-covered showmanship—even if they can also be just as overwhelming. And everyone writing about the movie Inevitably comes back to Butler, who manages, it seems, to be the heart of a movie that tries perversely hard to keep him at a distance. Per Variety‘s Owen GleibermanButler’s turn as Old Elvis transforms the movie, making it, “A woefully imperfect but at times arresting drama that builds to something moving and true.”
So, yeah, Elvis Apparently carries the Baz Luhrmann Seal Of Qualified Approval: You might get bored of a headache, you might be annoyed, but you probably won’t get.