Last year, Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” was a glitzy biography of Elvis Presley that put his music and his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker front and center in a movie that was mostly a celebration of Elvis as an entertainer.
As almost a counterpoint to “Elvis,” Sofia Coppola has made “Priscilla” a movie where Elvis’s wife Priscilla (played here by Cailee Spaeny) takes center stage.
Throughout her career, Coppola has revisited the theme of promising, beautiful young women imprisoned in gilded cages in movies like “The Beguiled,” “Marie Antoinette” and “The Virgin Suicides.”
With “Priscilla” she puts maybe her finest point on this concept as we follow around a lead character who seems to be living an enviable life of fame and luxury but is in truth suffering from manipulation and isolation.
One of the big points of emphasis this movie focuses on is just how shockingly young Priscilla is when she begins her relationship with Elvis (played here by Jacob Elordi).
She is a child of 14 years old when she first meets Elvis when he is stationed at her father’s military base in Germany. Even though he is 10 years older than her, the two begin to date and the two remain in touch when Elvis returns to the Memphis.
It’s only a couple of years later that Elvis convinces Priscilla’s parents to let her come live in Memphis and it is there that she enrolls in an all-girls Catholic school to finish high school.
Priscilla has to spend her days being gawked at and worrying about term papers while at night sharing her bed with the most famous person in the world.
When Elvis is in town, life at Graceland is an everlasting spring break partying with Elvis’ “Memphis Mafia” buddies. But when he is gone, Priscilla is practically abandoned and is unable to forge a life of her own.
Coppola gives us lots of shots of Priscilla wandering through the empty rooms of Graceland or having strained telephone conversations with Elvis. The movie was denied use of Elvis’ music, but not having those ubiquitous songs actually works in the film’s favor as it helps keep Elvis’ legend on the sideline while emphasizing that this is very much Priscilla’s movie.
As their relationship advances and the two eventually get married, Elvis is portrayed as distant and mercurial while Priscilla struggles to find her own agency and purpose in their whirlwind lifestyle.
My biggest critique of the movie is how it intently focuses on the beginning of their relationship, but glosses over the back half and that when Priscilla finally does find it within herself to leave Elvis, it feels more anticlimactic than anything else.
“Priscilla” is successful at portraying a young woman swept up by the allure of celebrity and glamor and struggling not to lose herself in the process. It also proves that life is complicated and complex and that one story can have many, many sides.
“Priscilla” is rated R for drug use and some language.