Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Adapted from Priscilla Presley’s Memoir Elvis and Me, Priscilla documents our subject’s relationship start to finish with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. For those not familiar with the source material, the Film has many revelations that will shock audience members.
Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) was only 15 years old when she was first invited by Rock ‘n’ Roll superstar Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) in the ‘60s. From the moment she meets him, there’s clearly a connection between them. Sophia Coppola’s direction is done through an unbiased lens as the two get to know each other. She knows the audience will inflict their own judgment on this relationship of a grown man pursuing a teen girl.
We watch as teenage Priscilla attends high school. The majority of her peers are daydreaming about being with the superstar while she can’t wait for the bell to ring and see him again. Spaeny gives a star-making performance as Priscilla. She captures the naïve innocence of the teenage mind, particularly in matters of the heart.
As Elvis’ interest in Priscilla becomes more adamant, her parents become suspicious. But the superstar’s charm unsurprisingly wins them over and before long teenage Priscilla is moving into Graceland. Elordi is cast perfectly as the Rock ’n’ Roll legend. His unassuming portrayal entices the audience while reigning in Elvis’ megastar allure. It’s clear Coppola and Elordi worked together so no impersonation of the star was made. Instead, he’s a man like any other but with a remarkable career. Thus, allowing all focus to be placed on Priscilla.
From Graceland on, Coppola exposes the darker parts of the relationship, particularly Elvis’ controlling nature. It’s here that Coppola’s direction becomes slightly biased. Placing her judgment on Elvis but remaining unbiased in the love Priscilla had for him. Now isolated from her parents, Elvis, his father Vernon, and his manager Colonel Tom Parker (noticeably absent from the Film) had control over Priscilla and her finances. Elvis told her what clothes and makeup to wear. While friends and employees of Elvis ordered her not to “prance” around the front yard where the public could see her. Once again, Spaeny is a knockout, encapsulating so well the feeling of being caged.
All this time, Elvis refuses to be intimate or marry Priscilla. But finally, he gives in…to the marriage. Coppola is a master when it comes to examining the loneliness of marriage. Here, she excels at showing the long stretches of isolation Priscilla endured during this marriage. She places her subject in vacant rooms in Graceland while the King is away. When he arrives back she’s shown as the isolated female surrounded by her husband’s male entourage.
Furthermore, when they are alone in their bedroom he refuses to have sex with her, even after they are married and she’s of age. Coppola alludes to his many infidelities with Co-Stars on movie sets through magazine and newspaper articles Priscilla reads. Just like in all of Coppola’s films, her female lead (just like all women) has buried desires that yearn to be met. Spaeny effortlessly manages to show these buried desires before she becomes more outspoken and demands them.
Priscilla is one of the best Films of the year. It’s an unflinching look at the unusual relationship that happened between Priscilla and Elvis. In Coppola’s meticulous hands, it doubles as a film about the intricacies of grooming and domestic abuse.
Elevation Pictures Canada releases PRISCILLA on Friday, November 3, 2023.