Priscilla is another triumph for director Sofia Coppola. It’s a film that stands among her best, and offers perhaps the most earthbound, heartbreaking depiction of what Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) went through during her whirlwind romance with Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi).
The film goes from the day the two met on an Army base in Germany through Priscilla’s exit from Graceland after telling Elvis their marriage was over. They were together for 14 years, but, as the film (based on Priscilla’s memoir) recounts, it was a time when Priscilla often dealt with isolation and loneliness. When Elvis wasn’t off making movies and having affairs with the likes of Nancy Sinatra and Ann-Margret, he was at home mostly hanging around in bed.
Whether he was home or away, Elvis was very controlling of his eventual bride, and almost always under the influence of some sort of pill. Spaeny gives a comfortable and assured performance, depicting Priscilla as a mostly tolerant but somewhat bewildered young woman, whose first major boyfriend turned out to be the most famous man in the world.
Coppola humanizes the story in every respect. By telling the story from Priscilla’s point of view, most of the film takes place inside Graceland or hotel rooms, where she roamed around with the poodle Elvis gave her, or waited for her husband to return from a show. The film often has an eerie, lonely quality. When the two are together, the film doesn’t shy away from the cruelties Elvis inflicted upon Priscilla. While Elvis is not a complete monster in this movie, Elordi does a good job of showing Elvis’ nasty, terribly inconsistent and inconsiderate side. The man was a mess.
Coppola wasn’t granted the rights to use Elvis’ music in the film, and that’s almost a blessing, as she comes up with a great soundtrack using contemporary music (one of her trademark methods) and music of the times by other artists. It didn’t register with me until after the film that I actually hadn’t heard any Elvis Presley songs during the movie—that’s a testament to how engrossing the film is.
Ultimately, the film is a nice cinematic companion piece to Baz Luhrmann’s far wackier, kinetic Elvis from last year. Priscilla is the polar opposite—and with its scaled-down, quieter approach, it’s a superior film.
Priscilla is playing at theaters across the valley.