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Directed by Sofia Coppola
Produced by Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley, and Lorenzo Mieli
Written by Sofia Coppola Based on the memoir Elvis and Me: The True Story of the Love Between Priscilla Presley and the King of Rock N' Roll by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon
With: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominczyk, Tim Post, and Lynne Griffin
Cinematography: Philippe Le Sourd
Editing: Sarah Flack
Music: Phoenix
Runtime: 113 min
Release Date: 03 November 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

The story of young Priscilla Beaulieu, the shy but adventurous child who became Elvis Presley's girlfriend, wife, mother of Lisa Marie, and finally ex-wife, makes an ideal subject for Sofia Coppola. The 52-year-old "nepo baby" (was there ever a celebrity artist who both fit and defied that term as much as Coppola?) has been making portraits of young women trapped in rarified isolation since she first picked up a camera to make home movies. Coppola has always excelled at films about beautiful young women experiencing deep ennui despite their enviable positions of wealth and status. Scarlett Johansson's disenchanted Yale-grad wife waiting around her suite at the upscale Park Hyatt Tokyo for her celebrity photographer husband to finish work in Coppola's masterpiece Lost in Translation. Elle Fanning's 11-year-old daughter of a divorced Hollywood movie star living temporarily with him at the Chateau Marmont in the less beloved, but still terrific Somewhere. Rashida Jones's writers-blocked Manhattan novelist stuck in an adulterous marriage in On The Rocks. And Kirsten Dunst's teenage Marie Antoinette running around Versailles waiting for the Dauphin of France to consummate their marriage so they can have an heir that will seal an alliance between their rival nations in Marie Antoinette.

Coppola's latest film is based on Priscilla Presley's 1985 memoir Elvis and Me: The True Story of the Love Between Priscilla Presley and the King of Rock N' Roll, which covers her meeting Elvis Presley, their marriage, and the issues that led to their divorce. Priscilla the film tells the story of a 14-year-old girl living in Germany where her father was stationed. One day, she's invited to meet fellow Southern American Elvis Presley, then 24, and serving in the army during the height of his fame. Elvis takes a shine to the kid, and soon, they begin dating despite her parents' concern about their difference in age and status. In no time, Priscilla is taking long trips to Graceland and eventually living in the lavish home Elvis built for his late mother, where she spends time with the King of Rock N' Roll during breaks from his busy movie schedule.

Much of the film is devoted to Priscilla wandering around the giant estate, acclimating to her new environment and this unprecedented role of being Elvis's "little girl." Their relationship remains chaste for years since Elvis, who has plenty of women at his disposal wherever he goes, views Priscilla as a kind of sacred object. Over the course of the picture, we watch Priscilla grow and mature into a persona separate from who she is in relation to Elivs, while The King remains a developmentally stunted manchild who can only see himself in relation to other key figures in his life—his mother, Colonel Tom Parker, his entourage, his image, and Priscilla herself.

The film's most astounding attribute is its 25-year-old star Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale, On the Basis of Sex, Vice), who perfectly embodies Priscilla at all stages from star-struck ninth grader to self-possessed 28-year old. Of course, the costumes and make-up contribute magnificently to this amazing cinematic transformation. Coppola is as obsessed and gifted when it comes to fashion as she is with telling stories of young women in gilded cages. Her eye for style makes the life of young Priscilla Presley all the more suited to this specific director. Elvis and Priscilla were both fashion icons. Much of what we remember from photos and film was embarrassingly over-the-top, but Coppola reminds us how singularly beautiful these individuals were in their day and how their clothing and make-up often accentuated it.

The Coppola movie Priscilla is closest to is Marie Antoinette; there are almost one-to-one similarities from one picture to the other. It also reminded me of Pablo Larra's Jackie and Spencer, for the obvious reasons that those movies also center on famous, glamorous young women ensnared in complex situations of powerless privilege that they are too inexperienced to navigate perfectly (though they do a damn sight better than most of us would). More than any of these other pictures, Priscilla can't entirely escape its own gold-plated prison of prestige—the biopic genre. Since the film necessarily covers far more years than the kind of biographical portrait that captures its subject's essence by observing them at a brief but critical chapter in their life, it hits a number of beats that make this most unusual life start to seem ordinary. Coppola has never been especially good with third acts, and her unwillingness to sully her movie by filming generic biopic scenes doesn't mean those story beats aren't still awkwardly present. Glossing over several vital developments that lead to this movie's conclusion does not serve it well. Fortunately, what this picture does remarkably well—the central performance, the fashions, the quiet, creeping malaise, and (also of vital importance in most Coppola pictures) the unexpected soundtrack—is what we leave the theater with.

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Sofia Coppola finds an ideal subject in the young Priscilla Presley. While this magnificent portrait can't entirely escape its own gold-plated prison of prestige—the biopic genre, star Cailee Spaeny's ability to embody the protagonist's evolution astounds.