“Priscilla”: A Compelling but Incomplete Portrait of an Icon

An American Fairy Tale All Shook Up
Sofia Coppola’s latest film, *Priscilla*, adapts Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s memoir *Elvis and Me*, offering a nuanced exploration of Priscilla’s life with Elvis Presley. Despite its insightful portrayal of their complex relationship, the film ultimately falls short in depicting Priscilla’s journey toward self-discovery and agency.
The Tale of a Teenager in Love
The film opens with 14-year-old Priscilla, living with her family on a military base in Germany, where she meets Elvis. Coppola meticulously details the evolution of their relationship, highlighting the ways in which Elvis grooms and isolates Priscilla. Initially, Elvis is the perfect gentleman, but once he brings Priscilla to Graceland, he begins to control every aspect of her life, from her wardrobe to her hairstyle.
Crafting a Pink Prison
Coppola, alongside production designer Tamara Deverell, creates a visually striking “pink prison” for Priscilla, emphasizing her confinement through meticulous details such as flamingo-colored carpets and Priscilla’s signature winged eyeliner. These visuals underscore Coppola’s examination of femininity and the societal expectations placed on women.
Girlhood on the Edge
Coppola’s depiction of Priscilla echoes her previous work in *The Virgin Suicides* and *Marie Antoinette*, portraying girlhood as a time of isolation and conflicting desires. Priscilla’s transformation from a naive teenager to a self-aware woman is expertly captured by Cailee Spaeny. Spaeny’s performance transitions smoothly through Priscilla’s phases, making her character’s growth believable and engaging.
A New Elvis on Screen
Jacob Elordi’s portrayal of Elvis diverges from the iconic, larger-than-life figure seen in other depictions. Elordi presents a more humanized, often immature Elvis, whose loneliness and vulnerability are evident. This contrasts sharply with Austin Butler’s portrayal in *Elvis*, offering a fresh perspective on the legendary musician.
The Isolation of Fame
The film underscores the loneliness inherent in Priscilla and Elvis’s lives, bound by fame and societal expectations. Priscilla’s isolation deepens as she is cut off from her peers and molded to fit Elvis’s ideal image. Coppola captures the chilling reality of Priscilla’s life, particularly in scenes where she performs mundane tasks like applying eyeliner while in labor, symbolizing her loss of personal identity.
An Incomplete Transformation
While *Priscilla* excels in portraying the first two acts of Priscilla’s life, it falters in depicting her journey towards self-empowerment. The film glosses over significant aspects of her life post-Elvis, including her entrepreneurial ventures and her pivotal role in preserving Elvis’s legacy. This omission leaves a gap in understanding how Priscilla transformed from a controlled figure into a self-reliant individual.
A Touching Yet Limited Conclusion
The film’s conclusion, set to Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” poignantly reflects the enduring bond between Priscilla and Elvis. However, it fails to fully explore Priscilla’s path to self-determination. While Coppola effectively portrays the manipulation and control Priscilla endured, she misses the opportunity to highlight Priscilla’s resilience and ultimate independence.
Conclusion: A Nuanced but Incomplete Biopic
*Priscilla* is a visually and emotionally compelling film that provides a fresh perspective on the life of Priscilla Presley. It shines in its portrayal of her relationship with Elvis and the isolation she experienced. However, it falls short in its third act, leaving the audience wanting a deeper exploration of Priscilla’s journey to autonomy. Despite these shortcomings, *Priscilla* remains a significant and insightful addition to the canon of biographical films.

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