Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Dagmara Dominczyk, and Ari Cohen
Director: Sofia Coppola
As a long-time admirer of director Sofia Coppola, I'm delighted to say that Priscilla exceeded my expectations. The sheer force of Cailee Spaeny's nuance alone makes Priscilla something special, but in true Coppola fashion, she pushes beyond what is expected of her to create an almost fairytale-like story about the flame of young love and when that flame goes out. The film is remarkably judgement-free while simultaneously never giving Elvis Presley (played astonishingly by Jacob Elordi) a pass. There is maybe one scene I'd take out, but beyond that, Priscilla is a fantastic telling of one of history's most famous couples.
Although it drags a bit in the middle (and I admit a proclivity to liking almost all things related to Elvis Presley), Priscilla is easily director Sofia Coppola’s finest film to date. By flipping the script to tell the other half of the story, we come to learn more about the at times beautiful but often troublesome relationship between Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and The King (Jacob Elordi). It’s obviously more subtle, empathetic, and sensitive than last year’s Elvis, but no less affecting as it paints an honest portrait of young love, insecurities, and seeing your way through to the other side.
One of Sofia Coppola's best directorial efforts, Priscilla’s success comes down to decision-making. The film’s vibe adapts to suit the themes within Elvis (Jacob Elordi) and Priscilla Presley’s (Cailee Spaeny) romance, yet never attempts to exploit or villainize these characters. A successful relationship needs to be one of partnership, not ownership; sadly, their union fits the latter. Spaeny’s journey from smitten schoolgirl to discouraged wife is classy and poised, while Elordi exposes Elvis’ darker side in a performance focused on the man over the celebrity. Each gives a terrific performance that should carry Priscilla straight into the awards conversation.
Priscilla is absolutely beautiful cinematically, and it perfectly captures the aesthetics of the time. Otherwise, it is an unsatisfying slog that leaves a lot of meat on the bones…I know, I’m bummed too. Elvis Presley is only one generation removed from my own, and the storytelling assumes the viewer has trivia-level knowledge of the Presleys' lives. Why not tell Priscilla’s (Cailee Spaeny) whole story instead of just demonstrating that Elvis (Jacob Elordi) was an asshole and that she was, somewhat complicitly, taken advantage of? The pacing, editing, and lack of character development rounded out an experience that had me feeling less than enthused upon theater exit.
Although Priscilla thrives on the brilliant direction from Sofia Coppola, it’s the captivating lead performances that will rope you into this story. That especially applies to Cailee Spaeny, whose portrayal of Priscilla captures the icon’s pure essence and emotions simply through facial expressions, something not many performers can pull off successfully. Overall, this film feels like a dark fairytale, giving viewers a glimpse inside a couple's young love, where one partner has the power while the other is being robbed of innocence. Granted, though, while it’s a nicely paced story that builds towards its climax gracefully, the ending moment isn’t as impactful as I had hoped.
With Priscilla, director Sofia Coppola weaves a devastating tale that explores innocence and the people who prey upon it. On a technical level, the film is practically flawless. The editing, cinematography, and score are all amazing; however, the true magic of the experience comes from its two leads and their powerhouse performances. Cailee Spaeny shines, effortlessly capturing Priscilla’s gentle naïveté, while Jacob Elordi dominates the screen, instilling his Presley performance with a crushing, profound sense of emptiness. With performances this amazing and direction this impeccable, it would be dishonest for me to call Priscilla anything less than a triumph.
This film was reviewed by Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Venice International Film Festival.