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'Priscilla' Lacks Pizzazz in Sofia Coppola's New Biopic

"I want a life of my own."

One year after Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler showed what made rocker Elvis Presley so famous in his heyday, director Sofia Coppola now takes a different approach in "Priscilla." As the movie's title suggests, Coppola's perspective of Elvis Presley's life and career is seen through the eyes of his girlfriend and eventual wife, Priscilla Presley. But Coppola's direction leans heavily on Priscilla's upbringing, her life in the spotlight, and the birth of the couple's daughter, Lisa Marie. With Priscilla as the focus and Elvis relegated to the background in this film, star Cailee Spaeny is given a chance to shine.

It's too bad the movie is so dull.

"Priscilla" stars Cailee Spaeny as the titular Mrs. Presley, although much of the film depicts the Texas native as Priscilla Beaulieu, the girlfriend to the most prominent musical artist on Earth. It's a familiar story told through the eyes of a woman who doesn't know what she's in for, given her young age and lack of aptitude for what it takes to date a global superstar. Jacob Elordi takes on the influential role of Elvis, although much of the film is devoted to his female counterpart, and Elordi's part is heavy on the supporting side. We watch as the two begin a courtship during a party at Presley's home in Germany, where Priscilla's father is stationed, and Elvis is completing his service in the Army.

Let's be clear: When Elvis and Priscilla met, she was 14, and he was 24. Imagine this scenario nowadays and how that would play out in the media. Priscilla's parents are initially skeptical of Elvis and his intentions with their daughter, but they allow the relationship to continue nonetheless. Eventually, Priscilla moves to Tennessee to live at Elvis's home, Graceland, and waits for him to return from filming movies and touring the world playing music.

Priscilla is never invited to film sets nor allowed to accompany her elder boyfriend on the road. She's annoyed with her situation but can't leave Elvis…too far down the rabbit hole of love. Yet, when Elvis does return home, he begins to be verbally abusive towards her and controls everything from the way she looks to when they consummate their relationship. The two marry and have a child, but the marriage is plagued by jealousy and power dynamics that cannot be denied.

"Priscilla" is built upon several characters steeped in history and nostalgia but signifies nothing by the end. Spaeny is pitch perfect in the role of a girl not yet a woman scorned by her significant others' mistreatment of her, including reported infidelities and control issues. Elordi does a fine job embodying a well-known, true-to-life character. However, given the film's perspective on Priscilla and her adventures in Graceland, the role is such an afterthought. Even when the two are alone in a room, the camera focuses primarily on Spaeny's glances and reactions, giving Elordi little context to Elvis's time outside of the mansion. There are very few sequences showing Elvis performing music, and many scenes are wrought with silence.

The dialogue between the two main actors feels forced, and the creepiness of their characters' courtship is glossed over entirely. Despite how well-casted the movie is, there's very little chemistry between Spaeny and Elordi. The focus on her journey rather than the far more famous and iconic characters is an interesting choice. It amounts to a trope in recent years (Kristen Stewart in "Spencer" and Natalie Portman in "Jackie") that lends itself to a woman wandering a mansion alone, slowly losing grip on her reality. It's tired and overdone; here, it stands out as unoriginal.

Sofia Coppola has a compelling vision regarding her female characters, whether Kirsten Dunst is taking power in "Marie Antoinette" or Scarlett Johansson is breaking away from the shackles of her broken life in "Lost in Translation." But "Priscilla" doesn't give Cailee Spaeny room to examine Priscilla Presley's marriage to Elvis and the aftermath of their divorce. It's a valiant effort by everyone involved, but the movie devolves into a boring story with little to no lessons learned.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟1/2

1 Comment

Oct 26, 2023

Totally disagree. not every film should be bombastic

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