Priscilla Is an Elvis Movie That Isn’t About Elvis
By now, the formula for musical biopics has become so familiar that it’s become background noise: A young person with talent and a dream sets out from lowly beginnings, gets lucky, has a spree of success, wanders into a dark place as fame and fortune take their toll, and finally finds a way out, becoming a legend in the process. Sometimes this makes for passable entertainment and even allows for some stylistic pizazz; more often it makes for by-the-numbers stories built around middling impressions of famous singers.
Sophia Coppola’s Priscilla takes a different approach: Although it spans much of Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi), it shifts the focus to someone in his orbit, his young girlfriend and eventually wife, Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny).
Here, the rise and fall of one of America’s most popular singers is witnessed at a remove, by an outsider brought—one might say lured—into his world. And the focus is not so much on recounting the highlights of his already famous career than on dramatizing the behind-the-scenes domestic life of someone in his orbit. It’s a quietly remarkable film that, as with so many of Coppola’s works, places a young woman’s experience at the center of the story, giving her agency even in the midst of what amounts to a real-world fantasy life.
When we first meet Priscilla, she’s sitting at an officer’s club in Germany at the end of the 1950s. A man in uniform approaches and asks if she’d like to join him and his wife at a party—and not just any party. Presley, who was in the military, was stationed nearby, and they’d be going to his house. You can see the apprehension in her eyes, the inhere suspicion about an older man who wants to hang out with a girl who was just a
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