Priscilla is Sofia Coppola’s intimate and airy look at the life young Priscilla Presley led while Elvis was out on the road and emotionally unavailable to her. Adapted from Priscilla’s autobiography Elvis and Me, the focus here is entirely on her life and the whole story stays with her perspective only. With Baz Luhrman’s Elvis giving audiences a look at how Elvis was overworked, taken advantage of, and taking too many drugs to keep performing, here Sophia Coppola strips away the lights and music to shine a light on the woman whom he needed in his corner and everything she had to deal with because of his career.
As a 14-year-old living in Germany due to her father’s military service, young Priscilla Ann (Cailee Spaeny) is one of the only students from the States in the area. One day, Priscilla is invited to the home of 24-year-old Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) to enjoy a night with his friends and family. Upon meeting Priscilla, Elvis begins to fall for this woman who reminds him of home and for the next couple years keeps her in his heart while he’s away. When Priscila finishes high school in Memphis and comes to stay with Elvis, her world is turned upside down as she learns there’s a price to pay for fame and being around it.
Sophia Coppola is still that same woman who wrote and directed Dazed and Confused, as the film’s blueprints are all over Priscilla. This time around, the study of longing and loving feels even more heartbreaking as you watch Priscilla almost trapped in a plush prison of pills, aggression, and isolation. Coppola showcases the beauty and wonderful things that fill the mansion in Graceland, lingering long enough to emphasize the quietness that often fills the space while Elvis and his yes-men were out filming/touring for weeks on end. She focuses on the coldness of Elvis’ half-hearted goodbyes as he refused to let her come out and see him while he was working. At every turn, it seemed like Priscilla was meant to be a home base for him and very little more.
Cailee Spaeny is simply marvelous as Priscilla, carrying the real-life youth of her around the world wherever she went by Elvis’ side. Her youthful naivety is wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time as we see her make strides with Elvis, only to later have him tear her down when he refuses to let her in to his more hectic life with the Colonel. Jacob Elordi masters the presence and voice of Elvis without ever becoming a distraction, making sure the focus lies solely on Spaeny. The tender moments shared between the two really do speak to the love they had in real life, but the instability of Elvis’ lifestyle continually got in the way and turned him into something terrifying at times.
Priscilla reminds me of the quote about a stronger woman being the one behind a strong man, helping him all along the way. It’s the same screwed up fate that seems to befall most prominent figures who reach global acclaim and influence, especially behind the scenes. The fame and success come at the expense of the artist and their family and while I don’t always believe that Elvis meant to hurt or hold back Priscilla, he certainly had more influence over her at a young age and put her into a world where they could never truly be alone or in love. It’s a greater tragedy than I realized, and Priscilla is an absolutely necessary story for us to truly understand what went on in their world.
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