From the beginning HEARTBREAK HOTEL wants us to know that the story it is going to tell us has nothing whatsoever to do with the real life of Elvis Presley. In fact it proclaims;
"In the kingdom of rock and roll There are many legends, But only one King. This is a fable about him. The time is 1972."
The story that unfolds takes place in the small town of Taylor, Ohio, a depressed and depressing place where Marie Wolfe (Tuesday Weld) owns a small hotel called the Flaming Star, named in for an Elvis Presley movie. Marie's life has always revolved around Elvis as did her husband's before he ran off with another woman and left her alone to raise their two kids; Johnny who's about 17(played by Charlie Schlatter) and Pammie who's considerably younger. Marie's life has degenerated into boozing it up every night with a series of boyfriends, her latest being Steve who isn't exactly popular with Johnny, but then none of her boyfriends have been big with him. After a fight over breakfast one morning Johnny stomps off. He's definitely the adult in their relationship and he's tired of having to shoulder all the responsibility. Besides, he has troubles of his own; his band The Wolfetones has been rejected 3 years in a row for the school talent show and even, worse he hasn't got a prayer with Beth, the girl of his dreams--who auditions for the show by playing Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" as if it were a classical piece on the piano. When asked who the composer was she replies "An obscure 20th century artist." Johnny adores her; she's got beauty and guts!
Wouldn't you know it? Just when things on the home-front seem to be improving, the plot sickens. After a night at the drive-in watching yet another old Elvis movie, Johnny and his mother bond in a way they never had before. They start to really talk and have a meaningful dialogue that would make Dr. Phil perk up hopefully. Then alas, Steve shows up and Johnny is left waiting on the couch for Mom to come back "in 10 minutes". As it turns out she did have a good excuse for staying out all night though, they were in a car accident and she wound up in the hospital...after they had an argument and he slapped her around a little first of course. That does it for Johnny. He has to take some sort of action. He simply can't bear seeing his mother so unhappy anymore. He has to find some way to cheer her up and fix her up.
Then he sees the article in the newspaper; Elvis is appearing in Cleveland on Saturday! Talk about fortuitous, and really short notice! That's when the brilliant idea springs into his mind fully formed--he'll get Elvis to go on a date with his mother! THAT OUTTA DO IT! So with about a day and a half at most to concoct and carry out his diabolical scheme, Johnny and his friends swing into action. With the help of Rosie at the pizza place, an enormous pink Cadillac, a bottle of ether, and a lifetime's worth of knowledge of Elvis his mother had imparted to him, how could he fail? He doesn't. And the next morning he has a soon-to-be-pissed-off Elvis lying unconscious on a couch in one of the hotel's unused rooms. Pammie studies Elvis and asks Johnny what he's going to do with him. Johnny says, "Give him to Mom as a welcome home present." "I think she'll like him better than the earrings I got her," she replies.
If I've made this movie sound dreary or gloomy or dismal in anyway, please disregard whatever it was that I said that made you feel that way. This is not some boring film about a dysfunctional family, this is a comedy through and through--it's just that it's a comedy with a very big heart and a weird premise. All that stuff about Johnny's mother is simply a set up for the rest of film, and even THAT has plenty of humor. Once Elvis (played by David Keith) enters stage right, things turn into every fan's idea of what it would be like to kidnap their favorite singer/actor. He behaves exactly as Elvis should behave; he's arrogant and isolated and lonely but it turns out that what he's really needed all along was to get to be a regular person again (and eat copious amounts of really greasy cheeseburgers), if just for a little while. It's just that Elvis' ideas of "a regular person" aren't quite the same as everyone else's.
Life lessons are learned, truths are exchanged, Charlie learns how to be cool and Elvis remembers what cool really is, and everyone emerges the better for their having met, including the audience. This is another entry in my JUST PLAIN FUN Movie Category, and You don't have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy it. You can take my word for that since I have NEVER been an Elvis fan and the only reason I saw this film originally simply because it got good reviews from both Siskel AND Ebert. It wasn't long after that I bought my first VHS copy and later my DVD.
All of the performances are first rate. David Keith and Charlie Schlatter have the most screen time with most of the weight falling on David Keith, 'cause if you ain't buying Elvis you ain't got a movie, right? Some critics thought that 1988 was too soon for a movie of this type, that Elvis was still too fresh in our minds and that David Keith bore little resemblance to him physically. That didn't bother me then and it bothers me even less now. Both Keith and Schlatter are very engaging actors who are more than capable of making us accept the film's somewhat loony premise, and in the process they also manage to bring an unexpected amount of depth to what could have been mere cardboard characters in the hands of lesser talents. They also both do their own singing in this film and I think they do a slam bang job of it. There may be better Elvis imitators than Keith, but I seriously doubt that they are as good an actor as he is, and you need both qualities to make this character work--the part calls for an actor not an aper. Schlatter is the teenager every mother would want as a son, and Weld is totally convincing as the lonely mother who barely looks older than her son. She has always been somewhat under-rated in spite of excellent performances in her youth in such films as PRETTY POISON and SOLDIER IN THE RAIN.
I just looked at this review--my God, no one is going to read all of this! However I would like to add one thing for posterity; THIS ISN'T A FABLE, its more like a fairy tale. The Elvis presented here is pure and clean and unreal. I don't think he even drinks a beer much less suffers from drug withdrawal which obviously would have been the case in real life. In a fable some moral is usually presented at the end, and there is none here. This is more like Spielberg's E.T. where the strange lovable creature has to return to his own planet at the end, never to be seen again.
HYPE FACTOR: are you kidding? Have YOU heard of it?
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I am the poster child for inertia. Where ever I am is where I plan to stay FOREVER. So much so in fact that it took me decades to understand the punchline about why the chicken … more
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This 1988 feature film, directed by Chris Columbus, is about Johnny Wolfe, a teen who kidnaps Elvis (played by David Keith) to cheer up his troubled, alcoholic mother (Tuesday Weld) on her birthday.
Elvis takes up residence in the family's den and improves their lives. In return, Johnny lectures Elvis on returning to his musical roots, instead of his Vegas lounge act. The film was made with the permission of Elvis' estate.