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PRISCILLA (2023) review

November 13, 2023


written by: Sofia Coppola
produced by: Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley and Lorenzo Mieli
directed by: Sofia Coppola
rating: R (for drug use and some language)
runtime: 113 min.
U.S. release date: October 27, 2023 (theatrical)


Last year saw the release of “Elvis,” a bombastic biopic from director Baz Luhrmann that was a whirlwind assault to the senses and a baffling entry in the filmography of Tom Hanks. Luhrmann and company reached their goal of “big and bigger” in every way, presenting a sympathetic portrayal of the alleged King of Rock and Roll, while his wife, Priscilla Presley, felt like an obligatory inclusion. Considering the countless amount of times Elvis has been portrayed in one way or another on the big (and little) screen, a film focusing on Priscilla is warranted. Writer/director Sofia Coppola is working from Priscilla’s 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me, as she sets out to give us a glimpse of how the life of one teenage girl’s life was changed forever back in 1959.

Despite the title, many will think this is yet another Elvis biopic and there will no doubt be comparisons to “Elvis”. A better comparison would be to “Marie Antoinette” from 2006, which was also written and directed by Coppola. That film and “Priscilla” examine the ways in which a teenage girl is tangled in the allure of infatuation, luxury, submission, and unfortunately (albeit gradually), becoming a prison for a suffocated and lonely woman…all in the facade of love and adoration.



When we meet Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny), she’s a bored 14-year-old feeling quite isolated while living in West Germany with her military family. Through an older young man in the military, she is invited to a party on base, all because Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) is there. At the height of his fame, he had enlisted in the army, and on this particular evening, the 24-year-old superstar is knocked out by this young girl. Much to the chagrin of her mother (Dagmara Domińczyk) and stepfather, Captain Beaulieu (Ari Cohen), who are understandably concerned about the age difference between the two and his celebrity. Nevertheless, the two become close and wind up spending quite a bit of time together.

At this point in time, with Elvis being a global sensation, what girl wouldn’t be smitten by the singer? She’s a teenager in a place where she has no friends and Elvis Presley takes an interest in her. Of course, she’s not thinking big picture and she doesn’t have the life experience her concerned parents do to put it all into context. Again, Elvis Aaron Presley likes her. But, what does he see in her? He’s used to being surrounded by adorers and friends who are then likely there for his celebrity or his talents as a performer, but do any of them know him? It’s lonely at the top, after all. Maybe he thinks this girl reminds him of a certain type of purity (not just because of her virginity) that reminds him of his home back in Tennessee, resulting in a connection to the real world.

Jump to 1962 and the pair have spent a good deal of time apart, making it harder on the younger, impressionable Priscilla to get through her days with no contact from Elvis. Priscilla’s parents have grown even more concerned as the teen shows a loss of interest in anything other than Elvis. Once she finally hears from him, Elvis flies her out to Memphis to live in Graceland and complete her senior year at a private Catholic school, all on his first-class dime. Elvis even uses his undeniable charm to convince (persuade) her parents that she’ll be well taken care of by his grandmother and the estate’s staff. What are two parents to do? After all, it’s Elvis Aaron Presley.

Most of the time, Priscilla is the only one at Graceland since Elvis is off in Hollywood pursuing an acting career. With his popularity growing, the media flock to his every move, leaving Priscilla to rely on tabloid gossip of his “affiliations” with famous actresses (such as Ann Margaret in particular) on movie sets. This makes it all the more challenging for her to finish high school, especially when everyone knows who her boyfriend is. When Elvis does return to Graceland, his visits are brief and they mostly consist of time spent with his bandmates and entourage, neglecting Priscilla and her need for connection. When the couple does spend time together, it’s usually Elvis telling Priscilla her hair isn’t right or a dress she’s trying on doesn’t look good on her.



Soon enough, Priscilla’s eyes are opened to his abusive behavior and neglectful ways. As the years pass and his global status increases, so does his reliance on narcotics (which he also introduced to Priscilla too early on) and their relationship has now turned into a dark and toxic place.

Considering the film’s title and its source material, Coppola is showing a couple, that became the closest thing to American royalty before JFK and Jackie, specifically through the lens of Priscilla. From ages fourteen to twenty-seven, when she filed for divorce from Elvis in 1972 after he grew increasingly emotionally distant and physically volatile. There are likely to be Elvis fans complaining about his depiction here, but it’s not his movie nor is it made-up either, considering Coppola is working straight from Priscilla’s memoir (a previous attempt to adapt the book as a television mini-series back in 1988 was a failure). From the start, there’s always something unsettling about their relationship, mainly because of what we see as observers, removed from the time and place. It’s not that such an age disparity in a relationship was acceptable back then, it’s just that this was Elvis, and the gossip of their courtship was limited to word-of-mouth since smartphones weren’t around then. Even if we go into “Priscilla” not knowing much about their relationship, looking at it from a 2023 point-of-view becomes increasingly strange and unsettling.

Casting is integral to any film, but especially in “Priscilla”, considering many viewers will have preconceived notions about how Priscilla and Elvis look and act. It helps then to have relatively unknowns play these two. Cailee Spaeny is quite mesmerizing as Priscilla, from beginning to end. As someone new to the world of fandom and opulence, Priscilla has to silently observe, determining how to adapt and acclimate herself around Elvis and his family and friends. Spaeny is great at communicating this exploration with minimal dialogue. As Elvis, Elordi isn’t required to go big and play to The King’s hip-swaying sex appeal, nor do we ever hear him sing, unlike Austin Butler’s impersonation of Elvis in Luhrman’s aforementioned “Elvis”. He acts more like Elvis than he looks (similar to what Anthony Hopkins did with Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon”), which is fine considering the screenplay only requires Elordi to be increasingly controlling and manipulative towards Spaeny’s Priscilla.

Speaking of physicality, the difference in height between the two actors is more glaring than the real-life age gap. This winds up unintentionally emphasizing the strangeness between the two, increasing the oddity of their relationship. Perhaps if Elvis wasn’t a huge star, he and Priscilla would’ve had a change, but those controlling and volatile tendencies, along with his addictive nature, would probably still be there. Who knows if his narcissistic tendencies were amplified by his fame, but it definitely had an indelible impact on Priscilla.

The overall look and feel of “Priscilla” results in the feature standing out amongst other typical biopics. There’s a deliberate softness to Coppola’s approach, and the natural lighting employed by cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd (who also lensed the director’s last two features) is gorgeous, incorporating a dreamlike haze instead of clear drama. At times, between the pristine camerawork and the meticulous costume design (from Stacey Battat, another frequent This aesthetic lends itself well to the film’s chilling aura of isolation and manipulation. Coppola’s goal is for a more indirect understanding of the relationship, clinging to this Cinderella story with a tragic fantasy playing out before our eyes.

Coppola makes the smart decision to steer clear of the recognizable music of Elvis. There’s no need to remind the audience of his presence since we know all the songs. This is primarily because his estate wouldn’t allow it. “Priscilla” is better off without it – again, it’s not his movie. Instead, Coppola once again collaborates with her husband Thomas Mars, and his band Phoenix (who also worked on some of her previous films), along with Sons of Raphael, with a focus on variations of music from the same era. None of the needle drops pull you out of the story,; when you hear Tommy James & The Sondells or The Ramones (to name just a few), their songs feel like they’re coming from the specific moment we are watching, rather than playing alongside a montage. There are even contemporary-sounding experimental ambient sounds to fill in the mood. Outside of the film, I personally find the soundtrack to “Priscilla” to be highly listenable, something that feels like a playlist used on the set.

“Priscilla” is a film that’s interested in exploring the emotions of the title character’s journey. From understandable infatuation to independent resolution, her story here ends when her relationship with Elvis ends. That’s expected, but my only complaint is that we don’t get to see much of her life without or after Elvis. As she got in her car and left the Graceland gate, I found myself curious as to where she landed next.






2 Comments leave one →
  1. Darlene M Lecesne permalink
    November 17, 2023 12:35 am


  2. Debra Ann sammis permalink
    November 17, 2023 9:09 am

    This review is a joke. First of all you are reviewing a fantasy movie. Priscilla’s book is based on fantasy a lot of untruths if Sofia Coppola did her research what she didn’t. Second of all it is Elvis Presley Enterprise that did not allow this movie to use Elvis music they didn’t choose not to use it LOL of the author here needs to do a little bit of research before printing falsehoods. Personally this movie doesn’t even deserve any acknowledgment. Because if anyone did any research they would realize that Priscilla Presley lied a lot about her relationship with elvis. She was no virgin when she married him her mother who had stars in her eyes and dreams of Fame pushed her daughter towards elvis. Elvis was forced to marry her he did not want to marry her but was threatened by Priscilla’s stepfather that his career would be ruined if he did not marry her. Priscilla’s been riding the coattails of Elvis’s dead body for decades. And true Elvis fans are sick of it. We understand that Elvis was not a perfect human being but the way Priscilla portrays him in her book with the way she speaks about him and now this movie is absolutely disgusting

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