November 3, 2023 / Elevation Pictures
Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominczyk
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
When teenager Priscilla Beaulieu meets Elvis Presley at a party, the man who's already a meteoric rock 'n' roll superstar becomes someone entirely unexpected in private moments: a thrilling crush, an ally in loneliness, and a gentle best friend.
Written By Darren
Rating 4.5 out of 5
Priscilla gives the spotlight to Priscilla Presley and her story with Elvis Presley, giving audiences an inside look to her life and relationship with the King of Rock and Roll, exploring both the whirlwind joy and pain of a tabloid romance thanks to a terrific performance from Cailee Spaeny and insightful writing and direction from Sofia Coppola.
Last summer, Elvis Presley took audiences and the box office by storm with Baz Luhrman’s dazzling biopic of the famed singer’s life: Elvis. While the film touched on his relationship and marriage to Prisiclla Presley, Prisicilla’s own account of her relationship with the King of Rock and Roll is getting the big screen treatment from writer-director Sofia Coppola. Coppola’s film is the opposite of Luhrmann, avoiding the spectacle and approaching Priscilla’s life with a more graceful and intimate tone, crafting a film that sees the fairytale romance clashing with the harsh realities of stardom in a hauntingly beautiful film.
Coppola’s screenplay chronicles the entirety of Priscilla and Elvis’ relationship, from their first meeting in Germany in 1959, up to her decision to leave her marriage with the music superstar. While there are moments of the limelife, the film focuses on Priscilla’s experience growing up in Graceland at a young age, the effect of celebrity on her growing up and her relationship with Elvis, and the more intimate moments of her relationship with Elvis. It is evident the deep bond that Priscilla and Elvis shared and the care they had for each other as the film captures lots of tender moments between the two. The film starts off as the fairytale young Priscilla was living as she was falling in love with the biggest music superstar in the world. But, as the runtime progresses, the cracks in the fairytale begin to show as real life begins to affect their relationship. There are somber shots of Priscilla all alone in Graceland, isolated from having her own friends and not being allowed to travel with Elvis while he was on the road or shooting a film. His affairs begin to affect their relationship, while the power imbalance between the two of them begins to show. It’s a heartbreaking tale to watch as you see Priscilla locked away and deprived from having her own life, but Coppola ensures that Elvis is never a villain. The villain remains the unseen and unheard Colonel Tom Parker, pulling the strings behind the scene and controlling Elvis, Priscilla, and their relationship. The main theme of the film is growing up in the spotlight, one that Coppola knows having celebrity parents, making her the perfect filmmaker to capture the complexities of Priscilla’s story. Coppola handles the film with a grace and respect for Priscilla and Elvis as human beings, while not shying away from the darker elements that Elvis skipped over in their relationship.
Delivering a dazzling performance that is the soul of the film is Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla. Portraying Priscilla at different ages of her life, from a young teenager to a mother, Spaeny captures the growth in Priscilla from a shy young girl crushing on Elvis, to a woman taking control of her life. Spaeny brings a sweet timidness to Prisiclla combined with a maturity far beyond her age that makes it easy to see why Elvis fell in love with her at such a young age. As the character grows up, Spaeny gives a strength to Priscilla that turns her into an independent woman, making for a captivating and fierce performance that will launch Spaeny’s career to the next level.
Following Austin Butler’s Oscar nominated performance as Elvis is no easy task, but Jacob Elordi is exactly what the film calls for. He naturally possesses that magnetic pull that is needed to play the King of Rock and Roll while getting the mannerisms correct, but he captures a more private side to Elvis. His caring for Priscilla is wonderful, helping to create the fairytale element of the first half of the film. At the same time, Elordi captures Elvis’s insecurities that began to cause fractures in their relationship, humanizing this legendary singer as a complex individual who is a product of those controlling his career, ensuring that Elvis never becomes the film’s villain.
Even with a small budget, Coppola and her creative team nail the aesthetics of the film. The recreation of Graceland captures the elegance of Elvis’s home, even if it feels much smaller than the actual estate in real life. The costumes recreate many of Elvis’s famous looks, while the various outfits of Priscilla capture the styles of the film’s time periods. Bringing to life the image of Elvis and Priscilla is great makeup and hair design that truly captures the individuals Spaeny and Elordi are portraying. Spaeny radiates the stunning beauty of Prisicilla thanks to the wonderful hair design and makeup that transforms her into Elvis’s true love, while Elordi truly looks like a young Elvis thanks to the hair team’s work on him.
Audiences will most likely be expecting to hear a soundtrack full of Elvis songs, but Coppola and her music do not use any of the singer’s songs throughout the film as part of the soundtrack. Instead, the soundtrack is full of other popular songs from the time era to create the ambience, ensuring that the stardom of Elvis never distracts from Priscilla; the focus of this film. It’s a great collection of songs, each fitting the moment in the film perfectly, but it is the song choice for the final scene that is the standout of the film. While the film ends with Priscilla leaving her marriage to Elvis, she continued to care for him for the rest of his life and upholding his legacy since his death, so there was no better song than Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” to end the film with. It’s a beautiful song, capturing the love between Priscilla and Elvis but also acting as an empowering ballad for Priscilla seizing the opportunity to finally live her own life outside of the shadow of Elvis.
While it may not be the film that audiences will be expecting to watch, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla is a beautiful character piece that tells Priscilla Presley’s story to the world. Anchored by a truly excellent performance from Cailee Spaeny in the titular role, combined with a screenplay and direction from Sofia Coppola that captures the complexities and love between Priscilla and Elvis that is graceful and heartbreaking, Priscilla is nothing short of a spellbinding film that explores the fairytale romance of Priscilla and Elvis Presley and the fractures caused by fame.