Bleecker Street 126 minutes R
Elvis in this house is both historical and hysterical. The photo most requested from the National Archives is the one of President Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands in the Oval Office. How that came to be is the subject of this film.You will laugh out loud. We did.
Kevin Spacey stars as Nixon and Michel Shannon channels Elvis. It’s based on The King meeting The President in 1970. That was a different time and Shannon says it was unusual for a President to be seen with, let alone, grant an audience with a popular show biz legend. Both are portrayed as the cartoon characters they were.
The script was written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes actor in Princess Bride and more than 100 films and TV shows, First credit as a screenwriter). As originally written, Joey Sagal was supposed to play Elvis, but when Michael Shannon came aboard Sagal took the role as an Elvis impersonator. Liza Johnson directs with a fairly hands-off technique. She lets her stars lay it one thick and both Spacey and Shannon go for it all the way.
Shannon was the first one cast as the pre-bloated Elvis. Shannon says Elvis was sweet, kind, and at this point in his life, in good shape. Shannon brought Spacey to the film. Spacey says he took a “brave pill” and said let’s go for it. It was shot on a set in New Orleans.
Shannon He sports the signature dyed black hair and cape-like costume with a giant, gaudy belt buckle, gold jewelry and the oversize gold framed tinted sunglasses. Opening scenes show the former Army soldier reacting to the news he sees on TV. Elvis gets enraged watching the anti-Viet-nam war protests, rampant drug use, flag burning and more on his multiple TV screens and thinks it’s time to take matters into his own hands. He wants to offer his services by getting deputized as a Federal Agent-At-Large, badge and all. He’s not interested in an honorary badge. What he wants is real authority to do something. We don’t know (and neither does he) what that means.
He calls his go-to friend, Jerry Schilling (played by Alex Pettyfer) who has always been there for him. Elvis persuades him to ditch his job in L.A. and travel to Washington D.C. to get that Oval Office meeting with Nixon. It’s totally outrageous, and even though his buddy knows it, he gets sucked in. He just can’t refuse The King. Their friend Sonny is, too, played by Johnny Knoxville.
That’s when the fun begins. Talk about negotiation! Elvis walking up to the White House gate with a handwritten letter explaining what he wants, and why, is hilarious. We see Elvis quietly use the power of his celebrity to bend the authorities to his will, from minor functionaries to Nixon himself. It makes you wonder who the most powerful man on the planet really was in 1970!
Shannon is very understated in his soft spoken manner. Even though he doesn’t look at all like Elvis in that goofy costume, he somehow channels him. And when he finally gets to the Oval Office, he doesn’t just bend the rules, he shatters them. It’s hilariously funny.
Spacey does look a lot like Nixon, not so much because of his makeup, but especially because of his mannerisms. Spacey is known for impersonations of many stars and politicians. He does a great one of Bill Clinton. This was probably great fun for him. Shannon says Spacey did improv adding a lot of swear words to make the President more like he was on the Nixon tapes.
And of course he has lots of practice playing a scheming politician as President Frank Underwood in Netflix’ HOUSE OF CARDS.
Colin Hanks and Evan Peters as Presidential aides Egil “Bud” Krogh and Dwight Chapin are fun and funny as they try to manipulate Elvis’ star power to get Nixon some positive press, especially with young voters. They’re respectful, but they know they’re working for a out-of-touch bully. It’s an up hill battle. Their interaction with the president shows how insecure Nixon was about everything, from his popularity to his looks. The King’s sex appeal and popularity truly intimidates the President.
Is this worth your bucks? ELVIS & NIXON is reminiscent of classic drawing room comedies. In this case, that room is the Oval Office. The movie has a screwball feel. Even Shannon and Spacey said they looked at each other during a scene and said, “Doesn’t this feel like Dr. Strangelove?” Ironic, because they say that was Elvis’ favorite movie. If you weren’t around in the 70’s you may find these characterizations outlandish, but in reality, the real Elvis and Nixon were not too far from what Shannon and Spacey playfully play. And wait till you see what Elvis ends up using for bait to get what he wants from Nixon!
This real life showdown between star and political power was played strictly for laughs. There aren’t grand messages or revelations into Elvis or Nixon, and it takes while for the comedy to get rolling. But once they hit the Oval Office, it’s entertaining watching Nixon with Elvis in the house….the White House.