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Priscilla review — Sofia Coppola returns with a haunting look at a twisted romance


Sofia Coppola returns to the big screen with Priscilla, her first feature since 2020–a biopic about Priscilla Presley adapted from Presley’s novel “Elvis and Me” which told the story of her relationship with the King of Rock n’ Roll. Following the recent success of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, this film gives us a painful look at the reality of the couple's life, all from Priscilla’s perspective this time. Where Luhrmann’s film was big, bold, and bombastic, Coppola creates a soft and delicate work that treats Priscilla’s reality with care.

From the beginning of the film, we see a 24 year old Elvis seeking out and courting the 14 year old Priscilla. Coppola perfectly depicts two things in these sequences: 1. the young girl’s excitement that her crush (and worldwide superstar) was interested in her; and 2. the stark reality of an older man seeing an opportunity to create the perfect wife by grooming a child who obviously adores him. While there are moments of absurdity that could be perceived as comedic, Coppola maintains mastery over the tone of the film, and there isn’t really anything to laugh about. I found the scene in which Elvis goes over to Priscilla’s home to talk to her dad particularly powerful. We see the conversation between these two men from the kitchen where Priscilla and her mother listen in intentently–like a child who sneaks out of her room to listen to what the grown ups are talking about late at night. Priscilla’s father eventually allows for Elvis to see the girl, a decision that changes Priscilla’s life completely.

We see Elvis slowly gain control over every aspect of Priscilla’s life, eventually convincing her parents to move her out to Memphis so she can finish high school under his roof. At this point we see a series of scenes in which Priscilla wanders around the empty home, waiting for Elvis to call on her or return from filming his movie in Hollywood. She is tormented by headlines stating that he is seeing his co-star romantically. We begin to wonder why he even brought her there in the first place, but then Elvis returns home. And he makes quite a spectacle of his girl, introducing her to his crew of guys that follow him around the whole movie agreeing with everything he says and their girls who make note of Priscilla’s age in a judgmental way. With these scenes, we begin to see the world that Elvis is creating for himself and how Priscilla may fit into it.

From here, the film reveals Elvis as a controlling, manipulative, and abusive figure who makes Priscilla change her hair and makeup, and decides what she’ll wear and how she’ll act–all while keeping her well drugged up and complacent. We begin to see how his fame has really made him a monster and created a life where everyone supports his monstrous acts. The girls of his friends, his grandmother, manager, father, everyone knows that Priscilla is a child, yet they do nothing because… well, Elvis is the King after all. He does draw the line at sex, something that frustrates Priscilla beyond belief, stating that he’ll know when the time is right. An argument could be made that he did this because he was concerned about having sex with a child, but based on the way this film depicts Elvis, I think it had more to do with maintaining power and control over Priscilla. Elvis decided everything for her, even when she got to lose her virginity. In reality, Elvis went 7 years without sleeping with Priscilla, waiting until their wedding night when she was 21.

After their wedding, the film began to lose me a little. Don’t get me wrong, the work was fantastic, but it got very repetitive. Elvis wants to control Priscilla. Priscilla lashes out. Elvis does something violent or cruel. Priscilla falls in line. Again and again. This continues. They have a daughter. This continues. With age, Priscilla begins to gain some perspective and independence and Elvis goes off to do his Las Vegas shows. And well, we know what happens. Priscilla leaves; Elvis falls deeper into his own despair, alcoholism, and drug addiction and he eventually meets his untimely end.

The ending did bring me back some. I think Coppola’s work is truly incredible here, and she found a way to tell this story in a totally serious way, which honestly would have been a challenge for a lot of directors. She maintains the truth that Priscilla was a child throughout the majority of the film, and everyone around her failed her. I left the theater with an icky feeling. Because I know that there’s a lot of people who believe that this was totally normal and okay for the time, and I imagine there will be a lot of critiques over the depiction of Elvis since he is so beloved (hell, I love Elvis! – see my letterboxd review of Elvis). But, Coppola is persistent in showing us what was actually going on, and you can’t argue with dates and facts (like the fact that a 24 year old sought out a 14 year old, brought her home with him, and eventually married, and impregnated her! All while having extra-marital affairs with women his age.)

I definitely need to highlight Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi, who made this film work. Spaeny, as the titular character truly grew up before our eyes and portrayed Priscilla with such purity. Elordi captured Elvis’s famous swagger and accent to a t (that’s coming from a true Mississippi girl, whose Grandfather grew up with the real Elvis Presley!), although at times it was almost too good as Elvis had a tendency to slur and mumble, making me lose some of the lines. But these two were basically the entire movie, and they carried it very very well! Spaeny, in particular, is so incredibly vulnerable and alive in this film– exactly what is required of a good biopic, I suppose.

Sofia Coppola subverts romance and love and forces us to recognize that we as a society accept far too much. This film builds and builds and then… it ends, leaving you with this emptiness that is actually quite brilliant. I’m left wondering how dangerous it is to create a King out of a man, how we could have failed this child so miserably, and if we continue to fail those that are in the limelight.


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