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‘Priscilla’ Review: A Fresh Take on a Famous Romance

Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi star as Priscilla and Elvis Presley in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla."
Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi star as Priscilla and Elvis Presley in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla." By Courtesy of A24 and Zoey Kang
By J.J. Moore, Crimson Staff Writer

Picture this: a crackling record playing an enchanting tune, accompanied by flashes of nail polish, hair spray, red lipstick, and a smile. Love, like a lingering melody, hangs in the air, casting a spell on the world. With a magical touch, Sofia Coppola transports audiences back to the mesmerizing year of 1959.

Coppola’s new biopic “Priscilla” draws inspiration from Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir, “Elvis and Me.” The film unfolds entirely through Priscilla’s eyes, weaving a tale of love, marriage, and the inevitable unraveling of their relationship in 1973.

It has been a little over a year since Baz Luhrmann’s psychedelic biography, “Elvis,” graced theaters, and in that short amount of time, already another movie that relates to the life of the King of Rock and Roll has been released. While Luhrmann relied on style and energy to propel his film forward, Coppola exercises restraint in “Priscilla.” Patiently, she guides the audience through the highs and lows of Priscilla’s experience — a life often isolated and lonely, and at other times suffocated by a controlling and manipulative presence. Cailee Spaeny’s quietly captivating performance as Priscilla is coupled with Coppola’s brilliant filmmaking, painting an intricate portrait of a high-profile relationship.

The journey begins in West Germany, where a shy 14-year-old Priscilla meets the 24-year-old rock sensation, Elvis (Jacob Elordi). Uncomfortable and laden with predatory dialogue, the scene is delicately presented by Coppola, forcing the audience to confront the uncomfortable truth of this early romance. Spaeny’s portrayal of youthful innocence adds a layer of unflinching honesty to the narrative.

The visual tapestry woven by Coppola emphasizes the imbalance of their relationship. The subtle play of light and shadow, the choice of high and low camera angles to create a sense of unease and inequality, and the meticulous close-up framing all contribute to the intimate and unsettling quality of “Priscilla.” Whether capturing the early introduction of Elvis or the ominous love that later unfolds, the cinematography speaks a language of its own.

Priscilla remains the focal point throughout the film, offering a fresh perspective on the iconic figure of Elvis. From winning her parents’ blessing to being whisked away to Elvis’s Memphis estate, the fairytale romance gradually unravels to reveal a more toxic and controlling dynamic. The film’s rhythm, coupled with the cinematography, ensures that every emotion is vividly portrayed on screen.

The film’s fantastical quality is complimented by its enchanting music, none of which is by Elvis — a fact owed to the film not being able to obtain the rights to his songs. Songs like “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and “My Love for You” by Sevyn Streeter serve as a backdrop to intensify the emotional journey of Priscilla. The upbeat tunes mirror her hopeful outlook, while the lonely moments are accompanied by a melancholic soundtrack. Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” makes the final scene of the film cut even deeper and emphasize the reflective journey that “Priscilla” has taken us on. The music matches every scene perfectly, making it impossible for every song to not feel crushingly memorable.

When Priscilla turns 21, marriage follows. Elvis constantly leaves her alone in their suffocatingly large abode. “When I call you, I need you to be there for me,” Elvis orders. Priscilla obliges, becoming a lonely bird in a suffocating glass cage. The birth of their daughter marks the downward spiral of Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship. Coppola meticulously brings to life Priscilla’s ordeal through montage sequences of her and Elvis at their happiest and long intense moments of screaming dialogue and silent contemplation at their lowest, most abusive, points. Coppola uses these beats to easily guide the audience to the erratic final act.

In this whirlwind of emotions, the film jumps from event to event, mirroring the blur of Priscilla’s memories of the relationship’s demise. The audience only sees Priscilla during brief moments when her and Elvis’s lives reconnect. It is up to the audience to recognize her growth as her own person, separate from Elvis’ dominating presence that seemed to constantly envelope her when they were together. The tail end of the film is left completely up to the audience to interpret. Viewers must piece together what eventually convinces Priscilla to leave the man she’s spent so much of her life with. As people watch, it will be impossible not to root for Priscilla to develop her own voice and self-resolve.

The final act is an unconventional choice. Through a quick montage, Coppola shows Priscilla at her happiest — with her friends, learning self-defense, taking care of her daughter, and finding herself. The frantic storytelling and editing in the end turns the last of Priscilla and Elvis’ relationship into a haze. It is impossible to not wish for more and feel a bit lost in all the quick flashes, but perhaps it aligns perfectly with Priscilla’s memory.

Despite the final act, “Priscilla” remains a captivating experience. Coppola’s bold vision refuses to conform to the biopics that audiences have grown used to. “Priscilla” feels more personal than the usual biopic — it feels like a young girl confiding in a diary, whispering all of her secrets. The audience is no longer just a viewer: Instead Coppola turns them into Priscilla’s closest friend and confidant. Coppola’s mastery of this cinematic art form is on true display as she provides an intimate look at Priscilla Presley’s personal account of Elvis and their renowned relationship.

—Staff writer J.J. Moore can be reached at

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