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When Priscilla Met Presley



Priscilla, 2023

We Sofia Coppola fans have been lying in wait, parched in the desert for another decadence-meets-masterful-restraint Marie Antoinette moment, and finally our patience has been rewarded. I give you: Priscilla. This reviewer will admit to a degree of skepticism: do we really need another Elvis movie? thought I. Turns out we do, and vitally, I say! 

Priscilla is the sweet, demure, feminine other-side-of-the-coin to the Elvis story, visited with such incredible relish and elan by Baz Luhrmann last year. The opening to the movie alone is an orgy of ASMR — her feet on the pink carpet, her light fingers on the perfume bottles, the feathery enchantment that comprises Copolla’s distinct style — the genius of it is that the style doesn’t take over her films, but is rather seamlessly married to the characters that inhabit her sealed-in-plastic worlds.

Copolla’s is a view from within a gilded cage, aka Girl World. Taken from Priscilla Presley’s memoir, Elvis and Me, and made in close conjunction with the Mrs. Presley herself, who was a producer on the film, the story is one of an innocent girl, flawlessly played by newcomer Cailee Spaeny, all dough-eyes and dewy lips, with a face that easily transitions from girl-in-a-ponytail at the soda counter to wizened wife. Their love feels innocent, genuine, and distinctly from another time period, but their story is a familiar one: we feel how much a wife can yearn for a husband (the main tension of the film, arguably), exacerbated a hundredfold by the fact that said husband is the most famous man alive, played by the tall and cashing Jacob Elordi — a soft and distant reply to the Austin Butler’s swashbuckling portrayal last year.

Upon the gossamer wings of Copolla’s quiet tone and with art direction that doesn’t miss even the tiniest detail, we are taken through the arc of their relationship, from inception in Germany, where they met when Presley was in the Army and Priscilla reminded him of home — the insistence on decorum by all parties involved, and yet the odd feeling that Priscilla is being, in a manner of speaking, sold, is a comment more on the female condition of yore than on Elvis himself, perhaps. The tight interiors of Graceland and the ridiculously ornate bedroom of the man himself are beautiful but quickly become airless as they close in on Priscilla, who clings to her little dog, more often alone than with the man she has enchanted, and become enchanted by. 

The mood is one of tragic romance, as we all know how the story ends for The King, consumed by his own fame, and when she finally leaves at the end, the Dolly Parton song, “I Will Always Love You”, that plays as she gives hugs to the women of Graceland (whom she ultimately spent most of her time with) left this reviewer with a feeling of sweet, aching sadness as Priscilla drives away — a comment less on fame, wealth, and music than on the female condition, tormented relationships, and having the courage to walk away.

—Peggy Hepburn

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