Elvis & Nixon (2016)
Elvis & Nixon is a hoot.
It had me chuckling all the way through.
It's an intoxicating mixture of parody and humanity. Some viewers may wish it had gone one way or the other, but the odd combination provides a heady chemistry.
In the contemporary world of obnoxious, stupid laugh tracks on television, a film like Elvis & Nixon is a godsend. It has wit, charm - and humor.
On television, The Big Bang Theory goes hysterical every time someone says "hello" or "the." The laugh track infects the program, and destroys the humor. But Elvis & Nixon is infectious in a great way. No loathsome laugh track.
The humor in Elvis & Nixon is leavened with humanity. And the humanity dominates.
The movie is less than an hour and a half. It's based on an actual event in 1970 when Elvis Presley surreptiously went to Washington on a quest to meet President Richard Nixon seeking to acquire a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and become a Federal Agent-at-Large.
Elvis & Nixon probably shouldn't work. It should be skimpy and strained. But two actors - Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon - give it marvelous heft.
Michael Shannon may be the most underrated actor in film today. He's already starred in two of the best films released so far this year - Elvis & Nixon and Midnight Special. As Elvis, Shannon doesn't sing - except in a scene in which he's in a car singing with other guys. But he captures the naive spirit and willful stubbornness of his subject.
Shannon brings his usual quality of stern earnestness. He's a somber Elvis. But he also emits power and personality. He's an Elvis who is trying to retain his humanity in a world that has made him a "thing." It's a tour de force performance.
Elvis & Nixon also rescues Kevin Spacey from the world of shilling he has been in recently. His performance as Nixon makes us remember the actor with chops. He, too, gives a memorable tour de force performance.
The scene in which the two icons share their conservative values and bond is a gem.
Adding to the human quality are Alex Pettyer as Jerry Schilling and Colin Hanks as Bud Krogh. Schilling is essential as the loyal, long-time friend, who can remember Elvis when he was young and real. Krogh is the Nixon aide who promotes the idea of the meeting between the disparate duo.
The film's only blip is at the end when we read what Schilling's future was. It's completely at odds with the film's portrayal. But other than that, Elvis & Nixon never strikes a false note.
The writers - Joey Sagal and Hanala Sagal - tell a "true story"; however, they have to create dialogue. But it seems spot on.
Director Liza Johnson may be the luckiest director alive. She is blessed with two actors at the top of their game. It's hard to imagine anybody better.
Although Elvis & Nixon has kicky humor, it has heart.
It shows an Elvis struggling against the world around him.
Elvis & Nixon could be subtitled, The King Who Would Be Man.