Film Review: “Priscilla”: A fascinating character study

by Isabelle Fortaleza-Tan

Adapted from the autobiography “Elvis and Me,” “Priscilla” (2023) follows the titular Priscilla Beaulieu over the course of her relationship with the infamous rockstar Elvis Presley, from meeting in Germany when she was only a freshman in high school to the eventual dissolution of their marriage many decades and a child later. The film traverses her growth as a woman under strict control from a young age and with restrictions from truly discovering herself. In “Priscilla,” she is more than just the wife of the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and is instead a multifaceted woman who is taken advantage of and let down by those meant to protect her — but who eventually reclaims herself in the end.

“Priscilla” is a quiet, understated film that does not try to dazzle or impart a satisfying moral to the audience. In making the biopic, director Sofia Coppola handles Priscilla Presley’s life with gentle care and consideration. The film, symptomatic of many of Coppola’s films, is visually stunning. The pastel color palette, detailed set designs and nostalgic ’60s wardrobing lull us into an uneasy sense of adoration. However, the audience never loses consciousness of how Priscilla is taken advantage of throughout her life and relationship. Additionally, while the film’s runtime approaches the two-hour mark, “Priscilla’s” razor-sharp editing ensures that the runtime flies by seamlessly. As an analysis of womanhood, isolation and privilege, “Priscilla” slots perfectly into Coppola’s brilliant filmography.

The film’s leading performances by rising stars Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi are pitch-perfect and impossible to look away from. Spaeny is able to masterfully play Priscilla at all ages and captures both her childhood naivete, as well as her disillusioned older self. Elordi, on the other hand, provides an excellent turn as Elvis and is able to convey the charismatic gravitas the singer would have had during his prime. However, as many have already seen in his performance in “Euphoria” (2019-), Elordi also excels at showcasing a darker and more controlling side. In conjunction, the two have a strong rapport and create unforgettable emotional climaxes.

It is difficult to ignore the implications of a film titled “Priscilla” coming out less than a year after Baz Luhrmann’s Oscar-nominated “Elvis” (2022). However, while both films focus on the same subjects, the style, purpose and themes could not have more juxtaposition. Instead of focusing on Elvis’ rise into becoming an “untouchable” American icon, “Priscilla” rarely features or discusses Elvis’ life on the stage. In “Priscilla,” when Elvis is off — somewhere — at work, we are still left in Graceland with Priscilla. The two films don’t necessarily “work against” one another, but offer fascinating — and undeniably gendered — vantage points that can prompt discussion and could make for an interesting double feature.

All in all, “Priscilla” does not offer bombastic betrayal or a miraculous happily-ever-after. Instead, the film offers a quiet meditative look at a unique life not all can relate to explicitly — but many can relate to, on some level, emotionally. If this sounds like a premise that intrigues you, then I strongly recommend giving “Priscilla” a watch.

Featured Photo Courtesy of A24

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