Review by Joseph Fayed
Priscilla is the latest Sofia Coppola feature to have a female protagonist trapped in the ever so isolating lifestyle of the rich and famous. This time she tells the story of Priscilla Presley, and using a similar formula as she has in the past, Coppola keeps you engaged in this slow burn of a biopic.
When she was 15 years old, living on a military base in Germany with her family, Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) met 25 year old Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi). The film follows the next decade of their relationship, and how Priscilla became inserted into a world she knew absolutely nothing about. As her life changes, Priscilla must decide what she wants, while also considering the impact on her world famous husband and how easily their lives can fall apart.
The film is told largely from the perspective of Priscilla and gives her more agency in several ways — for, example, by not including Elvis music (even if part of the reason is that the production was not granted permission to include his songs). Elvis was heavily focused on his career and is absent for a significant portion of the film. Priscilla, in the meantime, must come to terms with her new surroundings. She explores her new reality like any other teenager would have.
The most sensationalized aspect of the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla was their significant age gap. Unlike Elvis, where this detail was seemingly overlooked, Sofia Coppola dares to plant the seed that the king of rock and roll may have been at fault here. There are moments in the film where Elvis lashes out at Priscilla and gets violent with her. His team — with whom he spends more time on the road than he does with Priscilla — acts as yes men and doesn't disapprove of his actions. The downfall of their relationship isn't painted as some takedown of Elvis, but a growing discontent on behalf of Priscilla. It is obvious that she, like many other celebrity marriages, lost touch with her happiness once the honeymoon phase of their relationship was over. What followed was suffering in silence... something that the claustrophobic nature of the film captures beautifully.
Coppola is at her A-game once again when it comes to cinematography and set design. It's hard to describe how intimate shots are set up when they focus specifically on Elvis and Priscilla, versus the wide angle shots that almost hide our characters in a backdrop of pastel colors. Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi have great chemistry with each other and don't try to outact each other by impersonating Priscilla or Elvis. They look and sound like their characters, without having to go into theatrics to prove their transformation.
Priscilla mostly avoids falling into familiar tropes that tend to tank biopics. Given that this one was produced by Priscilla herself, she was clearly able to give her say in the matter. Whether it's the accusations of Elvis grooming her or his own infidelity, nothing serves as a dramatic turn of events until the marriage dissolves. The need to reclaim oneself doesn't happen after a particular sequence of events, and thankfully, the film doesn't act like the story needs to be told that way. It isn't flashy like Elvis was, nor does it focus on making a star a star. Rather, it settles for an intimate portrait of the woman who was by his side for so many years. The lonesome tone of this may be off-putting to some, but as an outsider looking into this relationship, it feels like the film consistently covers how Priscilla always felt she was on the outs too. At least Priscilla was able to find comfort in her bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume, as would I.
Priscilla is now playing in theaters.