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Review: Pricilla (2023)

Pricilla (2023)

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Premise: An adaptation of Pricilla Presley’s memoir Elvis and Me. A biopic of Pricilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) focusing on her relationship with Elvis.

What Works: Pricilla is a showbusiness tale but one focusing on the spouse of a famous entertainer instead of the entertainer himself. This isn’t really a story about music or art but about fame and the tension between living a substantive life with authentic human relationships and the flattening and superficial demands of life in the public eye. In some ways, Pricilla is a captivity narrative. As dramatized in this film, Pricilla met Elvis when she was only a nineth grader and her courtship has undertones of grooming. Upon moving to Graceland, Pricilla is essentially a prisoner in Elvis’ home and completely dependent on her husband and his family and assistants for everything. The images consistently suggest imprisonment such as shots of Pricilla framed in a window. Her look is also managed by others and always with a regard for how Pricilla’s public image reflects on Elvis and his brand. Cailee Spaeny is quite good in the title role. The movie doesn’t give her big dramatic moments but Spaeny conveys a lot through her face and posture. Especially impressive is the way the actress and the costuming and makeup crew transform Pricilla over the course of the movie from a school girl and into a woman. Jacob Elordi impresses as Elvis. He’s got the voice and physique but also the emotional stress. Just as Pricilla is not in control of her life, Elvis is also at the whims of others, most of them off camera, and Elvis’ growing desperation at his own caging is evident in Elordi’s performance. 

What Doesn’t: Pricilla is a Sofia Coppola film and like a lot of the director’s output Pricilla is emotionally muted. Coppola has a detached filmmaking style which is enhanced here by the distance she maintains from the characters. No one is particularly well characterized. The people working for Elvis or hanging in his orbit are just faces and even people who are close like Elvis’ father and grandmother and housekeeper are barely characterized. That may be part of the point, emphasizing Pricilla’s isolation. But even Pricilla herself is rather flat and uninteresting. We don’t really learn anything meaningful about her. Pricilla’s entire life is her relationship to Elvis, which is the point, but when she finally leaves her husband there is little sense that she’s going somewhere. The breakup has no emotional impact. Since the climax doesn’t mean much, neither does the rest of the drama and Pricilla does not say much about the perils of fame or domesticity.

Bottom Line: Pricilla is well made and the two central performances are impressive. But the movie is emotionally stunted and doesn’t tell us much about Pricilla or Elvis Presley or about life in the spotlight.  

Episode: #973 (November 12, 2023)