Team Experience is at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Jason on 'Elvis & Nixon.'
We get a "Thank you, thank you very much" fairly early into Elvis & Nixon, the new comic bio-pic detailing that legendarily bizarre photograph of the musician and the politician shaking hands in 1970, and that tips the movie's hat toward its will to please - this is a genial little thing, a bejeweled trifle, that leaves these two men's storm-clouds mostly off-screen at the horizon, opting instead for a light-hearted clash of Fame and Power and the Great Men who wield either/or. At times the Jack Benny score wouldn't feel out of place.
Not that not taking itself overly serious is a demerit by any means - Michael Shannon is The King of taking himself awfully seriously, so it's a relief to see him relax here under a different crown. He never really looks the part, but then everybody looks the part enough when you slap enough Presley paraphernalia on them (there's a wry little scene where Elvis meets an Elvis impersonator at the airport that messes with these notions of identity and self) - so Shannon under-plays and amuses through that under-play, allowing everybody around him to fill in the gaps. His Elvis is one who knows what a change in temperature his very presence causes upon entering a room, so why work so hard? Everybody will remember what they remember, regardless of what he does or doesn't do.
Kevin Spacey too tries to turn Tricky Dick into a goof, but that's a taller order (Dan Hedaya did the best job I've seen in the movie Dick, by leaning hard into Nixon's oversized assholishness) and he's given less to work with than Shannon - the film's clearly more interested in its Graceland cast of characters then the White House suits; unless I'm forgetting something I don't think we ever see Spacey outside of the Oval Office?
Anyway once the fateful meeting finally comes to pass, the movie screeches to a halt in the best sense - indeed I think it would've been a better movie had it found a way to slow time to such a standstill that it extended these scenes out for even more of its run-time. We never much care about anything else that the script tries to make us care about, but there's real burning love between its two main attractions.