By Monique de Villiers
Walking into this film, I expected to see nothing but beautiful shots and costumes, paired with an intense story about a woman being controlled by a man 10 years her senior; I wanted beauty and pain all wrapped into one, Sofia Coppola/A24 style. While the stunning mise-en-scene did not disappoint, I felt somewhat dissatisfied leaving the theatre.
Priscilla (dir. Sofia Coppola), based on Priscila Presley’s book Elvis and Me, tells the story of a 14-year-old girl (Cailee Spaeny) being swept off her feet by the Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi), then reaping the consequences every single day after. We see her being used as Elvis’ life support, stuck in Graceland to be there for him and nothing (or no one) else. Graceland slowly becomes more and more like a prison for Priscilla, where she is not allowed to bring anyone over, and is always being watched and told what to do, or more specifically what not to do. This feeling of imprisonment becomes more apparent after she graduates and is not allowed to take a job, and she is stuck there waiting for Elvis to come home and give her a purpose once again. As Priscilla grows up and she marries Elvis, she finds a new purpose in being a mother, but is still confined to her life in Graceland, waiting for her husband to come home from whatever new project he was working on.
Unsurprisingly, this May-December relationship was abusive and toxic, and that translated very well onto the screen; I felt myself waiting for Priscilla to either break down and fall apart or gain the courage to leave him. When I waited for a climax, I however received quite a slow deterioration of the relationship, and a somewhat rushed ending. Over time we see Priscilla become immune to Elvis’ mood swings and eventually lose the intense love she had for him as a teenager, and this happens over most of the film. At some point though, it felt as though one minute Priscilla was Elvis’ dark-haired thick-lined girl, and the next she was living in LA, embracing the natural side to her beauty and taking karate classes, with Elvis nowhere to be seen. It all ended so quickly, and it felt like someone pressed the ‘skip’ button over a couple of years. Although it was not explosive, the shift we saw in Priscilla as she grows up, becomes what Elvis desires, becomes a mother, then becomes her own person is powerful.
Despite my desire for a dramatic blow-out, the film ended beautifully; it did not end with her asking Elvis for a divorce, but rather her finally being free from Graceland. In my mind this further assured me that the home was like a prison for Priscilla, and to be free from it would free her from Elvis’ world once and for all.
This review was written after an exclusive preview at de Ketelhuis in Amsterdam on December 11th, 2023.