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March 3 , 2024

REVIEW: “Priscilla” marks director Sophia Coppola’s glorious return to the big screen

Actress Cailee Spaeny attends the "Priscilla" Special Presentation premiere during the 67th BFI London Film Festival at The Royal Festival Hall on Oct. 9, 2023.
Actress Cailee Spaeny attends the "Priscilla" Special Presentation premiere during the 67th BFI London Film Festival at The Royal Festival Hall on Oct. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Elvis Presley is one of the most well-known musicians worldwide. Even if you’ve never listened to his music, the image of his white, jeweled suit with a matching cape might be familiar.

However, the chance of knowing much about his wife, Priscilla Presley, is much lower and that is what makes her the perfect subject for American director and screenwriter Sofia Coppola, who examines Priscilla’s in her recent biopic released in October.

“Priscilla” is the story of how the titular character met Elvis and her marriage to him — it is also a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world, only to end up in the shadow of a man.

This subject matter makes the perfect case for Coppola, a woman who has been marked by the legacy of her father, Francis Ford Coppola, director of “The Godfather.” Several of her prior films have already explored women trapped in a society that’s already decided what it thinks about them.

Priscilla is much the same. She is trapped in the expectations that others have of her and is trying to grapple with them. Coppola uses Elvis’ mansion Graceland to symbolize the cage that Priscilla is thrust into, one so ominous that other characters warn her against stepping onto the lawn outside of its four walls.

Marked by its performances, the film stars Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla and beloved teen heartthrob Jacob Elordi as Elvis.

Spaeny plays Priscilla effortlessly, making the transition from 14-years-old to 30 look natural. She’s also able to capture a bird-like ingénue essence reminiscent of another decade, one associated with stars like Audrey Hepburn.

Elordi’s boyish charm plays perfectly off of Spaeny and makes him an intriguing pick for Elvis. His ability to blow up and become menacing at a moment’s notice allows him to display all the complexities of their dynamic.

Another important aspect of this film is its adherence to the Coppola visual aesthetic — which features pastel colors, beautiful clothes and luscious interiors, almost dessert-like in its essence. It makes her films refreshing to a viewer as they embrace a rarely seen kind of on screen femininity.

The ending can feel strange and abrupt, but it fits the narrative structure of Coppola, who makes a similar move in “Marie Antoinette” and breaks the tone that she’s developed throughout the picture.

In both of these movies, it’s purposeful. She intentionally tears apart the candy-colored lens of youth away from her female protagonists and thrusts them into the real world.

Coppola’s “Priscilla” is a beautiful portrait of the power of youth and all-consuming love, especially what that means to a young girl turned woman.

Rating: 4.5/5

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