A Monumental Meeting of Two Weird Dudes
By Skip Sheffield
Elvis Presley was one strange dude. Richard M. Nixon was even stranger. How fitting that the two odd ducks should meet in “Elvis and Nixon,” a new film by Liza Johnson. The script, written by Joey and Hanala Sagal, imagines the circumstances around the historic meeting of Elvis Presley and Nixon in December, 1970. The photograph taken of the meeting is the most requested image in the National Archives.
Playing Elvis is Michael Shannon, a man who looks not a bit like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Likewise Kevin Spacey does not much resemble Richard Nixon. For one thing, he is much better-looking.
None of this really matters, because “Elvis & Nixon” is played for laughs. Elvis by that point was one the down side of his career. The Memphis, Tennessee native was deeply conservative, despite his flamboyant lifestyle. Elvis was convinced America was going to Hell because of loose morals and rampant use of drugs.
Similarly Nixon was a hardcore right-winger who was contemptuous of the free love hippie lifestyle. The trick was getting these two characters together. Elvis was used to getting his way, and it never occurred to him getting an audience with the U.S. President might take some doing. Elvis imagined himself to be a perfect candidate for “Federal Agent at Large;” a post that did not exist. Enter Elvis’s handlers Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville). These guys knew Elvis better than he knew himself.
On the side of the President were yes-men Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters). They knew better than Nixon what was good for his public image.
It is one of my life’s regrets I never got to see Elvis perform. I could have gone to what turned out to be his last Florida appearance at West Palm Beach Auditorium. I just didn’t care.
Likewise I never saw Nixon in the flesh. I don’t think I missed much.
Liza Johnson has a playful sense of history and a keen sense of ironic comedy. Historical accuracy be damned, “Elvis and Nixon” is good fun.