Baz Luhrmann's latest film Elvis is, in some ways, not a bad movie at all. In other ways, it's completely incomprehensible. Approximately the first half is so overloaded with fanciful editing and all-over-the-map storytelling that it's often difficult to follow what is going on. However, it is also wildly entertaining. The latter half gets bogged down in a repetitive cycle of Elvis being depressed and getting taken advantage of by the big bad Tom Hanks. But even so, the film has enough personality that it's worth watching right to the end. Austin Butler's much-lauded performance as the music icon Elvis Presley is deserving of its praise, Tom Hanks' bizarre performance as the Colonel deserves its confused response.
As always, if you sincerely love this movie, or any of the movies I will ever describe as "bad," please know that badness is not an objective trait or even a negative quality. All movies can bring joy and are art.
Many of the rules from my stock list of drinking game rules can be applied here: cringe, pop song, exposition dumps, and something makes you laugh that was not intended to be funny. For an Elvis-specific experience, drink every time you feel/observe:
1. Insane filmmaking
In my opinion, you'll know it when you see it. This is a broad, catch-all category for everything from split-screens, flashbacks within flashbacks, wild camera movement, absurd use of CGI, and all the "Luhrmannisms" along the way. This is the most important category for this movie, and my favourite. Every time you see a filmmaking or editing decision that feels completely insane, take a drink.
I had never heard the word "snow" used colloquially before this movie, and I'm still not entirely sure what it means. Contextually, it seems to mean something like a carnival barker/snake oil salesman/liar, but I haven't looked into it. I suppose I like the mystery. Even though I expect it's unclear to 90% of modern audiences what "snow" means in this context, the characters say it constantly as if we all know what they're talking about and give it weighty emphasis. Every time they say it, take a drink.
3. Bad accents
This one mainly applies to Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker. For a while, when Colonel Parker's background is mysterious and it's clear he's hiding things from Elvis and the audience, I thought maybe Hanks' bizarre accent was a deliberate choice. "He's an unreliable narrator," I thought. "He lied to Elvis throughout their relationship and now he's lying to the audience with this strange, inconsistent, not-really-an-accent voice." After seeing Hanks also half-attempt an Italian accent in Pinocchio, where he portrayed Geppetto, I no longer believe his accent choice as Colonel Parker was deliberate. Instead, I think that Tom Hanks just doesn't really know how to do accents. Maybe he did at some point, but now he just does a gruff old man voice. Every time his accent strikes you as bad, strange, or inconsistent, take a drink.
4. Elvis was the coolest guy and a good country boy
Maybe Elvis really was the coolest, best, most talented man to ever live. Or maybe the movie removes all of Elvis's agency and responsibility for wrongdoings by making him out to be some kind of good ol' country boy saint. Maybe it's a little bit of both. Either way, every time the movie is in awe of just how pure-hearted or effortlessly cool Elvis is while he's being used by evil-doers who just want to take advantage of his lifelong innocence, take a drink.
5. Newspaper/news footage
As is common for public figure biopics, a lot of this story is told through contemporary media narratives and historical events. It's a good way to deliver exposition, establish themes and tone for a movie, and anchor it in a time the audience may already understand. Every time you see a newspaper headline flying toward the camera, grainy black and white footage of our main characters or other actual historical figures, or hear radio chatter about the events of the movie, take a drink.
6. Historical re-enactment
Similar to the previous rule, this is common in biopics for people whose lives the audience is already familiar with. It makes sense to capitalize on moments and imagery where the audience already feels a connection, and if the filmmakers do a good job of it then it's a great viewing experience. This movie in particular clearly took a lot of pains to get the re-enactments right. Whenever the movie meticulously re-enacts a real concert, interview, or otherwise, take a drink.
Elvis is a mixed bag. I found it in equal measures entertaining and frustrating. Personally, I found that as long as the movie's style kept up, I was invested and along for the ride. As our protagonist's life takes its many twists and turns for the worse and the spark of his youth and innocence fades, the movie winds down into what I felt was a bit of a slog. It makes sense for the style to reflect the developing themes of the movie, but I could've done with a shorter ending. That being said, this movie is one-of-a-kind and a very, very fun drinking game.