Sunday, November 5, 2023

Priscilla

A far cry from the overindulgent train wreck of 2022's Elvis, writer/director Sophia Coppola's latest film casts the spotlight not on Elvis Pressley (Jacob Elordi) but on Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and how Elvis' fascination with her changed her life in both positive and disturbing ways. Those who place Elvis on a pedestal may take issue with Coppola's screenplay, as did Lisa Marie Pressley. However, the film is adapted from Priscilla's own 1985 biography, notably toning down some of the more shocking moments of their lives together, and Priscilla served and as an executive producer to the film.

The film doesn't shy away from the awkward romantic relationship Elvis Pressley starts with a 15 year-old girl while stationed overseas in Germany. From that initial meeting, Elvis begins grooming Priscilla over the next few years to eventually become the woman he would marry. As for Elvis, he's a charismatic whirlwind blowing in and out of Priscilla's life, a controlling force often leaving at least as much damage as tenderness in his wake.

The first thing you notice about Coppola's film is, for what is at its heart a love story, how beautiful but lonely it is. This is a theme often explored in Coppola's best films. Cailee Spaeny is the centerpiece to the brightly recreated 1960s as the wide-eyed Priscilla, already infatuated by Elvis before their first meeting, who eventually nearly drowns in his wake. In some ways one could say Priscilla survived her relationship with Elvis Pressley.

The film ends abruptly, with Priscilla leaving Graceland after years of being a kept wife for a man who obviously loved her but was more devoted to his fame than his marriage. It's a cathartic moment that makes you both want to cheer and shed a tear for the life Priscilla is finally strong enough to leave behind. Through Spaeny, Coppola captures a child bride growing into womanhood and slowly discovering her own worth apart from the star's hot-and-cold affections.

Eloridi's version of Elvis is larger than life but never steals the heart of the film away from focusing on Priscilla. He's also a bit of a twit with anger management issues and, despite being a decade older, at times more childish than Priscilla. His drug use is chronicled as is the musician introducing drugs to Priscilla as well as controlling her look, style, and behavior often throwing tantrums when her opinions differed from his own. His need to control, isolate, and mold Priscilla is central in their relationship.

While there are plenty of supporting characters including Priscilla's confounded parents and the small cluster of family and friends Prscilla makes at Graceland where she's exiled for most of her life with Elvis, the movie stays focused on their relationship. Even if you don't take the fame and wealth out of the pairing, it's hard to ignore Elvis pedophilic tendencies where Priscilla was concerned as we uncomfortably watch him groom her into what he wanted for a wife while ignoring her for months at a time and cheating on her with Hollywood celebrities including Ann-Margret and Nancy Sinatra.

As promised, Coppola delivers a film focused on Priscilla, much of it in empty rooms isolated from the outside world and waiting for the volatile man she loves to eventually return. There's certainly love in their scenes together born out of Priscilla's adoration for the star as a teenage girl. Elvis' choice to begin courting the girl despite the optics of the situations (hiding her from the press for much of their early relationship) and her parents' disapproval does speak to how quickly and deeply he fell for her as well.

While Coppola offers a depiction of Elvis Pressley from arguably the person who knew him best, which turns him into a far more interesting human being on film than the clich├ęd celebrity that has become the public's lasting image of the man, it's the focus on Priscilla, often ignored or marginalized in Elvis lore, who grabs, and keeps, the spotlight throughout the entirety of the film which separates Priscilla from other depictions. Often struggling with the role she's been forced to play by the man she loves, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley earns the troubled joy found in that last scene of the film.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Priscilla
  • IMDb: link

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