Like some sort of sparse companion piece to Baz Luhrmann’s maximalist 2022 film Elvis, filmmaker Sophia Coppola’s freshly released Priscilla seemingly exists to give us more insights into the iconic Elvis Presley’s life—even if it is based on Priscilla Presley’s autobiographical book Elvis and Me and supposed to be about her. Technically, actor Cailee Spaeny (Mare of Easttown) is the star of the show, but Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi is the center of its universe as Elvis, and he drives every single moment.
Priscilla follows the actually-pretty-fucking-messed-up trajectory of a 14- or 15-year-old American army brat Priscilla Beaulieu meeting a 24-year-old Presley in Germany during his stint in the army in the late 1950s. A romance blossoms between the two, apparently with the blessing of Priscilla’s dad, who accepts a polite chat and a phone call as plenty of reason to let his daughter move back to the states and Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, when she’s, like, maybe 16. It’s not super clear who’s how old or how much time passes, actually, which we can attribute either to Coppola’s wooden and poorly written script, or to Presley herself being an executive producer on the film. Things like that tend to make the real stuff hazy, and Priscilla mostly becomes a repetitive list of rotating scenes: Elvis gets weird; Priscilla gets jealous; someone apologizes; drugs, drinking, partying; repeat.
Coppola lets her film’s on-the-nose licensed soundtrack—though notably without a single track from The King himself—do most of the talking for her, leaving Spaeny to twist without dialogue and mill about looking sorrowful and isolated. She’s clearly a talented and perspicacious performer, and she could surely do much with a fuller script. Here, however, we see her reading magazines or wandering the Graceland grounds or reacting to Elvis’ moods. After a few times, we get what purpose these scenes serve, but they just keep happening. Elordi attempts to breathe life into his role, and actually nails the Elvis accent more believably than Austin Butler in Luhrmann’s film. But Priscilla jumps from scene to scene so quickly that we don’t so much get a feel for its inner workings or its principal players as much as we see very good looking people being good looking while a pop song plays over a montage.
Even so, Priscilla does eke out some meaningful moments. Elordi’s imposing height finds him towering over the tiny Spaeny, for example, all the more selling how Elvis almost wanted a doll more than a partner. In one scene, he even dresses her up and explodes in a fit of rage when she wants to choose her own clothes—almost like she’s playing wrong. That concept of play becomes a central thread in Priscilla—a teenage wife who doesn’t understand her husband is a man-child and who ends up playing house within the most elaborate setup imaginable. Set against Elvis’ Olympic-level drug issues and mind-boggling pressures, it almost makes you feel for him and for Priscilla. Coppola simply moves things along too quickly for an audience to explore those feelings.
+Spaeny and Elordi are clearly talented
-Breakneck pacing; repeatedly redundant
Directed by Coppola
With Spaeny and Elordi
Violet Crown, R, 113 min.