Coming on the heels of Baz Luhrmann’s smash hit “Elvis”, director Sophia Coppola tells a much different story with “Priscilla”. We see a teenage Priscilla living in Germany with her military family. But her world changes when she meets Elvis Presley at a party. They form an unlikely romance that takes the world by surprise. Over the years, we see the ups and downs in their marriage, intimate moments with Elvis, and a vulnerable Priscilla reveals her perspective on the life she shared with one of the world’s greatest celebrities.
With the film coming so quickly after 2022’s biographical exploration of Elvis, Sophia Coppola creates a story that is wildly different. This serves the film well as it explores the relationship through Priscilla’s perspective. The aesthetic is less bombastic and more intimate. What was interesting is that none of Elvis’ music is used in the film. As much as I enjoy hearing it, this helps the story focus on Priscilla and allows their relationship to be the focus. Elvis is not ignored by any means. He is present in many of the scenes and has numerous exchanges with
Priscilla that were great to witness as an audience member. The approach for this film was a smart one, and I commend director Sofia Coppola for forging her own story.
As much of the film relies on Elvis and Priscilla, the two leading performances needed to be great. I’m happy to say they were! Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi are on screen for nearly the entire movie and deliver committed portrayals that make us believe we’re really seeing them. While Spaeny doesn’t look much like Priscilla (in my opinion) she delivers the soft spoken, shy persona of a young girl overwhelmed by the opportunities and presence of a star so great. Much of her performance is physical, capturing the awe on her face or the loneliness she bears when Elvis is not around. Elordi is the highlight for me though as he turns in an excellent portrayal of Presley. In fact, I’d say he compares to Austin Butler’s Oscar nominated performance. He even looks more like Elvis than Butler, making his appearance more realistic. Elordi captures the undeniable charisma of Elvis while delivering the softer, more insecure side of his character. He’s also convincing in the scenes where Elvis isn’t the nicest of men. These two really delivered.
The technical elements also stand out. “Priscilla” has a good chance at winning best costume design as the times were captured perfectly. From the makeup, outfits, old cars, etc. nothing misses a beat here. The cinematography has a unique graininess to it as well. Its almost like Coppola wanted us to feel like we were seeing these two interact from a perspective that wasn’t meant to be seen. A quiet third party observing the life of a famous star and a young girl unfolding in the private intimacy they shared. This wouldn’t work for every movie but it does here.
“Priscilla” is almost great. It does a lot right and pivots nicely from 2022’s “Elvis” to feel like a unique story. But a few small adjustments could have made the film truly special. A few interactions between Elvis and Priscilla don’t seem as authentic as others, specifically when conflict arises. At times, the conflict didn’t originate organically and unfolded because the screenplay said it should. This isn’t an issue with the performances but rather how a scene is constructed.
While I’m happy the story isn’t one sided, it does seem like there are elements of the conflict between Elvis and Priscilla that are only examined through her perspective. Sure, this is Priscilla’s story, but it could have been more objective to really showcase how both parties were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a lot about Elvis’ promiscuity and about Priscilla’s affair with Mike Stone that are quickly overlooked. Priscilla’s loneliness while Elvis was traveling was explored much more intricately. If the conflict was explored a bit deeper, perhaps the struggles they both faced would feel more troubling by the film’s conclusion.
“Priscilla” is an intimate look at the life of Priscilla and Elvis Presley. It contrasts with the larger-than-life portrayal in 2022’s “Elvis” and looks at the unseen side of their relationship. The performances are excellent and the film transports us back in time with the costume design and set pieces. A few bumps along the way don’t hinder the experience because the film is so well made. I recommend it to those who have seen the 2022 film just to see how different a story can be told. But then again, audiences otherwise should give it a watch too.