Priscilla (2023)

Priscilla (2023)

An emotionally gutting biopic that melts the myth of Elvis

The Very Best

8.3

Movie

Italy, United States of America
English
Drama, Romance
2023
FEMALE DIRECTOR, SOFIA COPPOLA
Alanis Peart, Ari Cohen, Cailee Spaeny
110 min

TLDR

You'll never be able to see Baz Luhrmann's Elvis the same again.

What it's about

A movie adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s memoir ‘Elvis and Me’ recounting the story of the fraught relationship that began when the 24-year-old musician met the 14-year-old schoolgirl.

The take

There are a striking number of similarities between Priscilla and director Sofia Coppola’s earlier offering, Marie Antoinette: both revolve around 14-year-old girls hand-picked to be partners to more powerful men in long-unconsummated relationships, and both girls are emotionally cut adrift and forced to live in gilded cages. But where Coppola’s Barbie-pink historical biopic is punkily anachronistic and riotous, Priscilla is a far more muted affair. There are no wild parties at Graceland as there were at Versailles; instead, Priscilla’s emotional isolation, thousands of miles away from her family, is made disconcertingly clear in shots of the infatuated teenager (played by Cailee Spaeny) anxiously ruminating alone in endless lavish rooms while the decade-older King (Jacob Elordi) plays away. Elvis’ emotional manipulation of Priscilla is conveyed subtly but inescapably — and the full sickening, insidious effect comes to the fore thanks to Spaeny’s astonishing performance. Based on Priscilla Presley’s own memoir, this is a bubble-bursting biopic, and it’s so compelling and painfully immersive that we never feel, even for a moment, like we’re watching the B side — instead, Spaeny and Coppola convincingly assert that this was the real story all along.

What stands out

Spaeny plays Priscilla across the 13 years the movie spans, but there’s no de-aging technology used here. Though the passage of time is suggested by some aesthetic changes in Priscilla’s style (largely supervised by the demanding Elvis himself), it’s made most clear through Spaeny’s incredibly modulated performance. Subtle shifts indicate the burgeoning of her agency — as in one late scene, when it feels like she’s finally breathing — but Spaeny also articulates just how stunted Priscilla was by Elvis’ insistence on infantilizing her. It’s a brilliant performance, one that deftly shapes the film around her and undoubtedly announces Spaeny as a rising star.

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