Sofia Coppola’s Burning Love letter to the King’s mistreated young wife.
The year is 1959. We meet young Priscilla in a diner outside her father’s base in Bad Nauheim, Germany, where a solider offers her a trip to his good friend Elvis Presley’s rental house for a party. At first, her parents say “No,” but he convinces them to say “Yes.” When she arrives at the party, she (at 14) and the King (at 24) fall in love (though through flirting) months before he leaves from West Germany.
His fame continues to kick in, but he still thinks of Priscilla, and their relationship takes off, up to the point of her moving to Graceland with him. There have been roadblocks in their romance along the way. Ones regarding news reports between him and Nancy Sinatra, a gimmick to promote his movie “Viva Las Vegas” with Ann Margaret, and how Elvis made Priscilla dye her hair black and take pills. In fact, it became an abusive relationship between them.
Eventually, they do marry (Priscilla at 21 and Elvis at 32) with their baby Lisa Marie on the way. But unfortunately, his fame begins to consume him and his marriage.
I am not spoiling anything. This is what happened, people.
Sofia Coppola’s latest movie “Priscilla” stars Cailee Spaeny (in her first film role since “The Craft: Legacy”) as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi (“Euphoria,” and the upcoming “Saltburn”) as Elvis, and both Ari Cohen and Dagmara Dominczyk as her parents.
Unlike Baz Luhrmann’s elaborate biopic, this one is more somber and sentimental. But that doesn’t mean it’s a crappy movie. In fact, it’s far from crappy. It’s Coppola’s direction and Spaeny’s performance you “Can’t Help Falling In Love” with. It’s the characteristics within the performances that come alive, and it’s the complexity of this six-year marriage.
Even though it drags on in certain areas within this dramatization, there are moments of authenticity and drama to keep you involved. We still question their age difference at the time, although there have been notes that their romance started through more flirting and less kissing. I don’t know the whole story, so I can’t really compare and contrast. I suppose we’re seeing this movie through the wife’s eyes, and it’s quite valid, especially when members of Elvis’ family can be strict with their guest.
As with such films as “Lost in Translation” and “The Beguilled,” Coppola has proven herself to be a better filmmaker than an actress (“The Godfather: Part III” is an example), and she directs “Priscilla” with low key ambition to delicately represent Priscilla’s romance with Elvis, which starts to deteriorate. It’s all within the decisions and outcomes.
Spaeny started off with a crappy film “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” but has blossomed herself with movies like “Bad Times at the El Royal,” “On the Basis of Sex,” “The Craft: Legacy,” and now, “Priscilla.” At the age of 25, she’s able to adapt to the role of a teenager transitioning into a young woman, whose spouse makes some difficult adjustments to her, while dealing with the publicity and work in his fame.
Elordi stands at 6’5 (5 inches taller than the real Elvis), which can be distracting to the King’s loyal fans, and Austin Butler is the better actor to portray him. But he still does a good job using his words, tone, and hairstyles. It’s not about the glamour or songs, but rather about how the singer mistreated Priscilla during their romance.
And on a smaller scale (and they’re only in the film for a short amount of time), both Cohen and Dominczyk are fine as Priscilla’s parents, who aren’t comfortable with her being invited to Elvis’ rental house by a stranger, but end up supporting her wishes to live on his estate with his family. Just as long as she attends Catholic school and focuses on her studies. I really don’t blame these two.
Sitting with anticipation on how Coppola can retell this true story in own light, the movie represents its romance and pathos with more genuine performances and less wall-to-wall behaviors. There’s a voice here to be heard.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.