Priscilla Presley is a victim of a bad husband and shitty life decisions in Sofia Coppola’s understated biopic Priscilla. Well crafted and superbly acted by Cailee Spaeny, the movie is unfortunately destined to be forgotten to time as Coppola keeps the audience at arms’ length.
Coppola methodically follows Priscilla from the time she meets Elvis (played devishly by Jacob Elordi) in Germany—as a 14-year old—and is subtly groomed and convinced to move in with him. He constantly gaslights her and plays with her emotions, depriving her of sex while he publicly cheats on her with starlets. She in many ways grows up alone, not really allowed to connect with others her age.
Coppola is methodical, yes, and the way she shoots each scene in such a matter-of-fact way, relying on the natural performance by Spaeny to convey fleeting moments of emotion and affect to elevate the material, works… on a scene by scene basis. Edited together Priscilla is a beautiful piece of work at a visual and technical level, the product of an expert filmmaker.
Yet it’s unclear what the point of this movie is. Is to show us that Elvis may be famous but he wasn’t the best of husbands? Fine. Is it to demonstrate that Pricilla Presley was her own self? OK, but Coppola seems largely uninterested in digging deep enough to explain why this woman should command our attention. Is it to present her as a victim, and then as her own savior? Maybe, but to what end?
Priscilla is a well-made movie, but that technical mastery only goes so far. It’s a bit of an empty vessel, a passing thought left to be forgotten more than a fully realized idea—let alone a production worthy of your attention.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.