There’s a famous quote by James McBride: “Don’t meet your heroes. If you meet your heroes, you’re always going to be disappointed.” Something that the character of Priscilla from the eponymous movie realised in a complex and destructive manner. When teenage Priscilla Beaulieu, played by the brilliant Cailee Spaeny in legendary filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s able hands, goes to meet rock and roll legend Elvis Presley at a party, what unravels is eye opening and quite a learning. The superstar actor and singer turns into something completely different in their private settings.
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Sofia Coppola’s cinematic universe features movies like The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette, each with powerful portrayals of women. You will then know her heroines are a reflection of women in golden cages in this world, surrounded by people but always lonely. And Priscilla of Priscilla seems to be the loneliest of all.
As a new girl in a new country, we encounter her sitting by herself in a diner while trying to enjoy a milkshake. She gives off the impression of being a girl who enjoys being alone; she also tells her mother that she doesn’t want any new friends, but as the first 20 minutes roll, we eventually witness her solitude and imprisonment. This later became the sole reason for her strong desire to meet the King, Elvis Presley. The movie questions the dream-like take on a teenage girl swept off her feet by the world’s most famous man.
The movie is inspired by Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, which shares her side of the story about her marriage to Elvis. The movie portrayal is lavish, exquisitely designed, and banks on aesthetics with tastefully done costume styling, makeup, and hair. Each of these elements is designed to iffer an insight into the melancholic but highly realistic journey of this relationship with a huge age gap. Elvis, who is portrayed by the picture-perfect Euphoria alum Jacob Elordi, and is shown to be attracted to young Priscilla’s air of frail innocence. This has sparked a intense debate on Presley’s actions in courting, or perhaps more accurately, capturing, Priscilla as the years go on. In today’s times, this sort of problematic behaviour would fit the definition of groomer – a fact you realise early on in the film. It will leave you quite disturbed.
For a woman who is frequently granted secondary importance in her own narrative in multiple movies, Coppola’s film initially seems interested in changing this stance. As the trailer promised, it reveals the dramatic life of the lady behind the title ‘wife to the King, icon to the world’. From a regular lens, the story is a cute meet-up of two lonely people who plan dates to talk about their lives but also sheds light on how powerful men control their relationships with much younger women. As the story goes forward, their marriage is constantly falling apart due to Elvis’s string of alleged affairs, which lead to the faltering of their bond.
Later, Priscilla subtly begins to trade Elvis’s world for her own. She takes karate lessons; she has a dinner party with people who are her friends, not his. She ventures, in other words, outside the castle and realises that a life outside the golden cage is worth living for.
And by the time the film ends, it is clear that Elvis has become a prisoner of both his own notoriety and much more. When he is shot from behind during one of his innumerable Vegas performances, we realise that he has fallen from grace. In the last shot, she gets in her car, takes a deep breath, and drives straight out the gates, with Dolly Parton singing “I Will Always Love You.” in the background. Priscilla does a fantastic job of capturing the protagonist’s hardships, showing times of frustration and imprisonment in their house, especially when Elvis is involved in multiple affairs.
The movie doesn’t hold back while representing the sensitive topics of emotional toll in toxic relationships where desires go unfulfilled, and the pursuit of personal identity eclipsed by the larger-than-life presence of a famous spouse. Despite these positive aspects, the movie has a tendency to repeat the sequence of events, which makes the audience wonder how accurately real-life events are portrayed in the movie. The one-gear pace guarantees a steady watching experience, even though it fails to show the big highs or lows. The film’s short duration leaves multiple questions unanswered for viewers.
The movie is completely carried by Cailee Spaeny’s dynamic acting skills, which will definitely score her multiple award nominations next year. She delivers a remarkable performance, paving the way for a promising future in the industry. She convincingly portrays a character whose freedom and personal development are hindered by the conflicting demands of love and fame, with little help from Jacob Elordi, who tries his best to nail Elvis’ body language. Coppola’s film ends on a dramatic note that is both unsettling and heartbreaking.
Priscilla is all set to hit Indian screens exclusively at selected PVR theatres.