Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic bids to get down with the kids

The Australian director appears to be courting younger viewers with his hotly-anticipated film about The King.


Lucy Vipond

For Gen Z, Elvis Presley wasn’t the fixation of their parents but rather their grandparents’ – or even their great-grandparents before that. He was a rock ’n’ roll star, a figure of rebellion; censored on the television in his early years, frowned upon by the older generation and the cause of mass teenage hysteria. Today, the escapades of pop stars are far less constrained, and Elvis’ hip thrusts seem relatively tame by comparison.

Baz Luhrmann has set himself the daunting task of turning The King into a figure of cultural intrigue again, via his upcoming Elvis biopic which will receive its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this month. It’s a potentially career-making role that attracted every bright young thing in Hollywood to audition, including Harry Styles, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Miles Teller. Instead, Luhrmann opted for former Disney Channel and Nickelodeon star Austin Butler as his lead.

Butler will star opposite Tom Hanks as the singer’s controlling manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Rounding off the cast are Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley and Dacre Montgomery as producer Steve Binder, names that should already be familiar to younger viewers given their respective roles in Netflix’s The Society and Stranger Things.

Luhrmann has also opted for a postmodern soundtrack, employing modern music to avoid alienating audiences. Previously, he turned F Scott Fitzgerald’s classroom classic ‘The Great Gatsby’ into a glitzy romp with music produced by Jay-Z. The Elvis soundtrack made its debut during Doja Cat’s headline performance at Coachella last month.

Elsewhere, ‘Vegas’, a near unrecognisable rendition of ‘Hound Dog’, samples the song’s original artist, Big Mama Thorton. Also set to feature is Kacey Musgraves with a cover of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’, while 2021 Eurovision winners and TikTok darlings Måneskin will tackle ‘If I Can Dream’.

The Australian director’s biggest hurdle may be reconciling Elvis’ reputation with the younger generation’s political views. While other musicians who have recently been given a biopic makeover such as Freddie Mercury and Elton John were LGBTQ+ icons, Elvis met his wife when she was just 14 and built his success on the sounds of African-American musicians. With the American Civil Rights Movement serving as the film’s backdrop, it will be interesting to see how Luhrmann handles the coiffed crooner’s complicated legacy.

Published 18 May 2022

Tags: Austin Butler Baz Luhrmann Cannes Doja Cat Elvis Elvis Presley Jay-Z

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