Priscilla (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)
Updated: Nov 3
Starring Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Domińczyk, Tim Post, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Luke Humphrey, Lynne Griffin, Dan Beirne, Olivia Barrett, Dan Abramovici, R Austin Ball, Evan Annisette, Stephanie Moore, Deanna Jarvis, Jorja Cadence, Josette Halpert, Stephanie Moran, Daniel Lipka, Raine Monroe Boland and Emily Mitchell.
Screenplay by Sofia Coppola.
Directed by Sofia Coppola.
Distributed by A24. 113 minutes. Rated R.
Elvis Presley was one of the biggest stars in rock and roll history, but he also had a tragic and troubled life. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Hollywood finds his story endlessly fascinating. Priscilla is the second big movie about his life in less than two years, following in the footsteps of Baz Luhrmann’s flawed-but-popular Elvis.
Okay, technically Priscilla is not the story of Elvis, it is the story of his ex-wife Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, but let’s face it, no one would ever go to see a movie about Priscilla if not for her tumultuous relationship with her charismatic, larger-than-life ex-husband. (Personally, I would have liked to see a bit of her Naked Gun years, but I suppose it is unsurprising writer/director Sofia Coppola decided to focus on the Elvis era.)
The film is a look at the power dynamic of the couple, and honestly that is the reason why it doesn’t quite make for a satisfying film. Let’s face it, Elvis had all of the power, a fact which is shown off again and again throughout Priscilla until she finally found the courage to leave the relationship.
After all, when they met, she was a shy, quiet 14-year-old military brat whose family was stationed in a foreign country. He was a 24-year-old superstar in the midst of a short-lived (less than two years) army stint which was undoubtedly set up by his manager as a publicity stunt. As shown in Priscilla, Elvis’ military stint hardly seemed like that of the average grunt. He had his own home, friends and relatives were allowed to stay with him, and he seemed to spend more time playing the piano and partying than actually dealing with combat. (He most certainly was not sent to Vietnam, even though he was in the army during the early phases of that war.)
Like most every girl in the world at the time, Priscilla was blinded by fame and had a bit of a crush on the glamourous star. And she was just a girl. (In fairness, although they met when she was 14, their relationship did not get romantic and sexual until a few years later.) She mostly meekly went along with pretty much anything that he told her to do.
Honestly, Priscilla is sort of overshadowed in her own story by the troubled-but-charismatic man she shared her life with.
It’s kind of surprising that Priscilla does not have any of Elvis’ music. Priscilla used to have some sway over the estate. However, maybe it is not all that surprising, as word has recently come out through Variety that Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie read an early screenplay for Priscilla and wrote Sofia Coppola before her death, calling the script “vengeful and contemptuous” and begging her to change it. Since Lisa Marie at the time was in charge of the trust that handled Elvis’ musical rights (they are now handled by her daughter, actress Riley Keough) it’s not totally shocking that the film was denied the rights to his music.
Of course, Lisa Marie’s mother actually lived through what happened, while Lisa Marie was only a child when her father died. Priscilla Presley has been quite vocal in her approval of Priscilla, which is based on her 1985 autobiography Elvis and Me. It’s Priscilla’s side of the story, and honestly Elvis does come off as a major ass often enough – not that it is a total surprise that Elvis was a deeply flawed and drug-addled man.
The lead couple is well played by Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi as Elvis. Spaeny in particular has a tricky role, playing a mostly reactionary role, and aging from a young teen into a grown woman. She gives Priscilla a depth that is not always in the screenplay. Elordi – who seems to be everywhere, suddenly, I’ve also seen him in Saltburn and The Sweet East in the last couple of weeks – does a fine job of inhabiting the contradictions of Elvis, showing his charming swagger and his selfish disregard for others.
Honestly, I’d have to say that Priscilla was more of an interesting film than it was actually a good one. I’m not sure I’d ever be tempted to watch it again, but I’m glad that I have seen it.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2023 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 3, 2023.