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Film Review: Priscilla

FILM REVIEW
PRISCILLA
Rated R
113 Minutes
Released November 3rd

Adapted from Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, this movie illuminates Priscilla’s life with Elvis through Priscilla’s eyes. Director Sofia Coppola presents her subject as a thoughtful, independent, inexperienced 14-year-old who is aware of her situation and charts it knowingly, making the experience her own. Years later, this awareness lets her realize that the relationship with Elvis has become toxic. Coppola makes it easy to see that Elvis’s fascination with Priscilla is her ability to see him as a fellow human rather than an icon.

Coppola’s cinematic telling of the story seems true to life and portrays both the positive and the negative of an obsessive-compulsive relationship. Elvis, groomed by his handlers, in turn, grooms Priscilla. When he met Priscilla, Elvis had just lost his mother, with whom he was extremely close, so there was a vast emptiness in his psyche. Priscilla’s family had moved to Germany, where Elvis happened to be stationed, as her father was transferred there to the armed forces. She had left behind her friends and her life. The loneliness she accepted proved to be the nature of her world over the years of her relationship with Elvis.

Coppola has designed this film like a rich oil painting from the 1600s, showing a young girl’s spirit, longing, and loneliness. The muted visual tones of the beginning mirror Priscilla’s solitary life in a low-key style, mirroring Elvis’s use of sleeping pills and subsequent languor when he was home with her. Later, when Priscilla breaks out of her emotional prison, the colors become abruptly intense.

Coppola is not afraid to take chances, casting the 5’1” Spaeny opposite 6’5” Elordi as “Elvis.” The real Elvis and Priscilla did not have this extreme height difference, but it serves to depict Elvis as a larger-than-life persona who could be suffocating to Priscilla. Corolla recognized the talent of Spaeny, whose previous roles have been high energy and edgy, to transform into the shy and innocent Priscilla. This realization of an impressionable teen is done with meticulous strokes, not just with the acting but also through the make-up and the decor religiously brought to life. The costumes are central in the telling of the story. Costume designer Stacey Battat created over 100 outfits for Spaeny for this movie.

Coppola is in touch with fashion design, having interned with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel early in her career.  

Spaeny was born and raised in Springfield, MO, and grew up to be an Elvis fan. Her mom collected Elvis memorabilia and took her to Graceland. As a teen, Spaeny performed in little theatre. In 2016, she released her first single as a musician, “Fallin’,” and moved to LA to pursue a career as a pop star. Then she booked her first film role in Counting to 1000, followed by Pacific Rim: Uprising in 2018, and a very edgy, colorful role in Bad Times at the El Royale the same year. Spaeny has a grounded approach to acting: “You do the work, and if you’re a good employee and a good actor and you try to be kind and study up…then you hope that it comes back to you.” At the Venice Film Festival premiere, Spaeny received the highest compliment possible. Priscilla Presley told her, “I watched my life through you, and you did an incredible job.” Elordi grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and also acted in theatre as a teen. He was cast in the US TV series Euphoria at the age of 18. In Priscilla, he masters the loose Southern drawl of his character and, at the same time, reflects the very complicated nature of the person behind the icon. 

This is a painful movie to watch, and it’s meant to be. Once she broke out of the suffocating confinement of her marriage, the real Priscilla went on to find her strength and become a successful actress, writer, and producer. She is still working at the age of 78. I hope the director considers making “Priscilla the Sequel,” the tale of a girl whose emotional growth was stifled as a teen, who went on to win back her identity and forge a successful career in her own right.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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