Elvis opens one week from today. As Lainey said yesterday, these are the final moments before Austin Butler’s life blows up once everyone gets a look at him as Elvis Presley. As busy as this week will be for him, it’s the calm before the storm. Because there WILL be a storm. My full review will run next week, but Butler is the best thing about the movie, basically the only reason to watch the movie, and yeah, people are going to lose their minds over him. Here’s Butler in NYC, head down, mask on, maybe clinging to the last of his anonymity. Masks and ballcaps won’t protect him much longer. Because the young girls, they are one week away from branding his name on their notebooks.
There’s one every ten years or so, that one heartthrob that becomes a cultural touchstone for a cohort’s coming of age—the unicorn, if you will. It’s not even a strictly generational thing, because generations span long enough that the older and younger ends of the spectrum can be shaped by different events and tastes and have their own icons as a result. For instance, the unicorn of my cohort was Devon Sawa, particularly in Casper. I will never forget the visceral reaction, the audible gasp that ran through the (packed) theater when we saw him come down the stairs at Whipstaff Manor and ask Christina Ricci if he could “keep her”. Then, not even a full decade later, Orlando Bloom turned to face the camera in Lord of the Rings, and I heard the younger members of the audience emit the same gasp. A few years after that, it was Robert Pattinson in Twilight, and a few years before Devon Sawa it was River Phoenix, and way back in the 1950s, for the first generation of American teenagers, it was Elvis Presley.
Austin Butler is going to be the unicorn for the younger end of Gen Z. A lot of people are about to come online when they see him gyrating and pouting and singing his guts out. It’s not just the movie or the Elvis of it all, Butler is a classic unicorn—prettier than he is handsome, a little bit androgynous, soft, in an appealingly boyish way. The unicorn is never about overt sex. The unicorn is not Brad Pitt in the motel room in Thelma and Louise or Patrick Swayze manhandling Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing. The unicorn is about first crushes and innocent explorations of desire, without the complication of real sex. The unicorn is, for lack of a better expression, a safe space for figuring out what you like and what’s appealing. That’s why unicorns are always pretty boys, at least until they’re old enough to outrun their boyishness. Austin Butler is the 2020s unicorn.