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FILM REVIEW: Priscilla

Subtle, effective, and dark Cast: Cailee Spaney, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominiczyk, Tim Post, Lynne Griffin, Dan Beirne, Rodrigo...

Subtle, effective, and dark

Cast: Cailee Spaney, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominiczyk, Tim Post, Lynne Griffin, Dan Beirne, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll

Rating: 3.5/5


Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, which was released last year, is one of the most, stylistically, self indulgent films and one of the grandest films ever made; it idolises Elvis and isn’t concerned with everyone around him: it’s essentially a “true” biopic where nobody else, except for the person on whom the biopic is based, matters. Priscilla Presley (played by Oliva DeJonge) didn’t have much to do. She barely had any dialogues in the film, Luhrmann didn’t really acknowledge her existence, so we never got to have a look into their troubled marriage. All that we see is Elvis The King of Rock-n-Roll, we never see Elvis The Person. 

Now, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, based on the book “Elvis and Me”  written by Priscilla Presley focuses more on Elvis The Person. She chronicles the unseen side of a great American myth in Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s long courtship and turbulent marriage, from a German army base to his estate at Graceland.

Priscilla begins with a shot of Priscilla, formerly Beaulieu, in a diner when a friend of Elvis’s comes and asks her if she likes Elvis or not, to which she replies: “Who doesn’t.” Coppola’s film is a deconstruction of a man who’s loved and admired by everyone through his wife’s eyes. In the first 40 minutes or so, we see Elvis through a fan’s eyes (Priscilla), gentle and kind and charming and sexy, but as the film slowly progresses, we see his persona collapse in front of his wife, and how she deals with it. Everything is expressed through her body language and her actions. There’s an interesting scene in the film where we see Priscilla deciding how to sit and what to do when Elvis comes back, but then days pass and he still doesn’t come back. 

Coppola seamlessly captures Priscilla as she matures: the film starts with her in the ninth grade and ends with her finding herself. Priscilla by the end, realises that her fantasy was just a fantasy. Elvis is portrayed as a towering figure in front of Priscilla, and the height difference between Elordi and Spaeny works in favour of the film, depicting how she was always inferior to him and how she was always covered in his shadow.

Priscilla also shows the toxic side of Elvis. There is a scene when Elvis, on the phone, tells Priscilla: “It’s either me or your career. I need you to be there every time I call you”. There is another instance in which he throws a chair at her when she says she doesn’t like his new song, but Coppola never antagonizes Elvis, she portrays him as a flawed human being with his problems. The film is judgemental, it observes and makes us form our own opinion of the characters.

The performances are the best part: Spaeny is simply amazing as Priscilla, she’s subtle but effective in what Coppola wants her to convey. She doesn’t have a lot of dialogues but her facial expressions are successful in expressing what the character is feeling like in the situation. Elordi, who starred in The Kissing Booth and Sam Levinson’s Euphoria, surpasses Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis in Luhrmann’s film in certain aspects: his performance is believable and his rendition of Elvis is deeply rooted in realism.

Priscilla is a subtle, but effective film. It tracks Priscilla Presley as she lives her biggest dream and as she slowly matures, realising that sometimes dreams should remain dreams. It is full of gorgeous shots: the cinematography is simply excellent: and the spaces (both emotionally and physically) between Elvis and Priscilla are captured beautifully. Not using Elvis’s music in the film works in favour of the film: it shows that despite being Elvis’s partner, Priscilla is detached from his music and his life as a star, and has a personality of her own, waiting to be found. The music selection is great: it features Ramones’s Baby, I Love You and The Righteous Brothers’s (I Love You) For Sentimental reasons to name a few. The final shot, set to "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton is both chilling and reaffirming.

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