Sofia Coppola brings a fragile contact to Priscilla, the A24 biopic of Priscilla Presley (née Beaulieu), who married Elvis Presley in 1967 and separated from him six years later. The film runs out of steam in its ultimate act, because of a scattered construction aimed extra at tracing a real-world chronology than following character drama by means of to its most rigorous emotional outcomes. However till that time, it’s saved afloat by Coppola’s mild conception of Priscilla’s story, which she unfurls by means of a pair of sensible, alluring performances.
Priscilla feels prefer it’s descended from Coppola’s 2006 historic drama Marie Antoinette, which captures the French queen as a doll in an ivory tower. The same strategy in Priscilla sees its title character framed with fragility, as if Elvis may shatter her at any second.
It performs like a rebuff of Baz Luhrmann’s Oscar-nominated 2022 biopic Elvis, wherein the duo’s marriage is framed solely round Elvis’ expertise, and the isolating results of his rising fame. Their relationship weaves out and in of the story of Elvis’ profession, however with out exposing how Priscilla was remoted from the world as properly. Elvis additionally fully glosses over a key element which may’ve additional sophisticated the icon’s historic legacy: When the couple first met in 1959, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll was 24 years outdated, and his eventual queen was all of 14.
Photograph: Sabrina Lantos/A24
Coppola’s film has no such qualms about addressing their age distinction. It’s based mostly on Priscilla’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, and although Priscilla says she drastically loved Luhrmann’s film, Coppola’s model performs like a historic course correction in its inventive framing of occasions. She makes few alterations to Priscilla’s recollection of occasions, however every filmmaking resolution is pointed, as if to not solely develop on the constraints of Luhrmann’s Elvis, however to reframe Elvis Presley’s picture within the public consciousness through an intimate take a look at his most essential romantic relationship.
The 2 movies take fully totally different approaches to actuality. Luhrmann’s Elvis is a zany acid journey bordering on camp, with Austin Butler portraying Elvis by throwing himself headfirst into the King’s iconic physicality. Priscilla, introduced simply after Elvis’ launch, had been within the works for for much longer, however it could actually’t assist however exist in dialog with Luhrmann’s movie, because it zeroes in on the gaps between Luhrmann’s wild, eclectic montages to current a extra methodical character drama. That begins with Coppola’s decide to play Elvis: Jacob Elordi, as a extra soft-spoken but emotionally unpredictable model of the person, which inserts her extra naturalistic drama, simply as Butler was an ideal match for Luhrmann’s operatic imaginative and prescient.
However Coppola’s secret weapon is Cailee Spaeny, who she solid as Priscilla on the recommendation of Marie Antoinette star Kirsten Dunst. Standing at 5-foot-1, Spaeny is bodily eclipsed by the 6-foot-5 Elordi, who towers over her in each scene. This top distinction is way higher than that of the actual Elvis and Priscilla, however Coppola makes use of it to her benefit, magnifying the age and expertise chasm between them. Priscilla appears enamored by Elvis, and Elvis has a tenderness about him, however their differing sizes and the digital camera’s framing urges viewers to contemplate the dynamics Priscilla won’t see, or that Elvis chooses to disregard.
Photograph: Sabrina Lantos/A24
The costume design can also be a key think about Priscilla’s trajectory, and it really works in tandem with Spaeny’s efficiency. The movie’s opening photos are of a closely made-up Priscilla — the way in which she finally appeared to the remainder of the world — in a scene that exists as if it’s exterior of time, and solely throughout the public creativeness. However this iconography has a narrative behind it too, which Coppola instantly establishes when she introduces viewers to 14-year-old Priscilla on the U.S. army base in Germany, the place her father is stationed, close to the place she meets Elvis. Seated at a diner counter and studying a heavy highschool textbook, she has the prim demeanor and posture of somebody younger and sheltered, a teen who hasn’t but discovered to insurgent or chase after what she needs.
Spaeny portrays that emotional immaturity with a shocking physicality. As a stranger in uniform approaches her to strike up a dialog, towering over her the way in which Elvis does in the remainder of the film, silent alarm bells go off, as we’re urged to surprise why this grownup man is chatting with a 14-year-old woman seated all by herself.
It seems this man is considered one of Elvis’ mates, inviting Priscilla to return meet the King at a celebration at his personal residence. It’s a glamorous, dreamlike proposition, however the refined discomfort in Spaeny’s efficiency suggests viewers ought to be on edge, despite the fact that nothing overtly sinister comes of their dialog. Is that this man some form of predatory envoy, who is aware of Elvis “likes ’em younger”? Or are his quite a few makes an attempt to persuade Priscilla’s dad and mom to let her attend Elvis’ social gathering merely the graciousness of a fellow fan who acknowledges that Priscilla is lonely?
Maybe the reality lies in some uncomfortable center floor, the way in which it does for Elvis himself. Elordi’s portrayal veers between figuring out and conflicted about their distinction in age and sexual expertise. However the movie doesn’t remedy the thriller of whether or not his dilemmas are a efficiency for Priscilla. Coppola opts for the emotional uncertainty Priscilla herself might need felt at any time when Elvis ran cold and warm together with her.
Photograph: Sabrina Lantos/A24
Spaeny’s embodiment of this uncertainty is marvelous. The movie finally loses its dramatic momentum, veering into vignettes and flashes from the duo’s later life. Coppola strings these along with an goal in thoughts, laying the trail for the couple’s separation, however with out laying out character trajectories or capturing the dilemmas behind their main choices.
Even so, Spaeny’s efficiency is an important dramatic linchpin. She strikes a cautious stability between need and trepidation. In Coppola’s broad photographs of the couple in mattress, Spaeny places on a clinic of efficiency. Her gaze is engaging, as if her romantic and sexual motions come from the methods she imagines, or has been taught to consider, the grownup world. However her hesitant physique language creates a livewire rigidity in every intimate second. All the things Spaeny does together with her palms and ft serves a definite emotional objective, from nervous fidgeting to playful teasing.
In Luhrmann’s Elvis, Olivia DeJonge does a commendable job as Priscilla, however the script simply asks her to play a inventory Hollywood biopic sort, the spouse whose alternating doting and rejection helps illustrate the watermarks of a male genius’ profession. In Priscilla, the duo’s relationship takes heart stage as a substitute, affording them equal dramatic weight even after they’re aside, and letting Spaeny and Elordi create dwelling, respiration visions of those American icons in personal moments behind the scenes.
Each of those movies serve distinct functions. Elvis arguably fulfills its formal obligations with extra vitality and aplomb. However with Priscilla, Coppola crafts an important historic counter-narrative to the way in which Hollywood icons are canonized and revered. She does this not by demolishing Elvis’ iconography, however by zeroing in on its particulars, revealing the issues within the many statues inbuilt his title by coaching her digital camera on the interior lifetime of his most important counterpart. Within the realm of mainstream fiction, Priscilla Presley seldom acquired her due — till now.
Priscilla opens in broad launch in U.S. theaters on Nov. 3.