Here I stand: a millennial from Europe who knows Elvis just because he is a reference to everything. I’d lived in a blissful reality where only his music and icon existed. No idea about his life, even more about his love life or family.
This obviously changed through years, especially recently, when Austin Butler tried on Elvis’s shoes. Suddenly, the icon was brought back from the dead and started roaming again. Everybody was amazed and the film was a success scoring a few Oscar nominees, including best actor. If it was a good depiction of Elvis’s life – I can’t say. It had its ups and downs but it was just a reminder.
With Priscilla however, it is different. This film was made to damage the pristine career of god of rock and roll. Based on the memoir by Priscilla Presley, it was made to shock and look behind the career of rock’n’roll god.
Even though both Priscilla and Elvis offer a look at the same person, they are not alike. Almost. It is a little amusing how both of these films need a blunt villain. Like there was a fairytale out of Grimms’ that is to be blamed for all the evil in the world. As in Elvis it was The Colonel, in Priscilla it is obviously the one and only Elvis Presley.
On the day of US premiere of the film (3rd November), all the news and media got a statement from Lisa Presley, the daughter. She confessed that Sofia Coppola’s film picture her father as a predator and manipulative. Family feuds are great for marketing so I didn’t think much of it back then. 1
Yet this is the perfect word for it – a predator. There isn’t much else for Elvis to be in this film. 90% of the time, he takes advantage of Priscilla and does not allow her to say no. She is to be everything he wants and absolutely nothing more.
That already made me question the whole thing. There was nothing to even fall in love with him in the first place (except of the obvious fame and money). And you do not stick in such an abusive relationship for that many years and not have a single thought about it.
And this is what it looks like. We have a little Priscilla that is absolutely pointless about life and takes whatever her god gives her. If it was just the beginning, I’d buy it. She was, after all, a child when they met. But this girl has nothing in her head for the whole film except for painting nails and buying dresses. Until the very end.
There is barely any kind of relation between her and other characters. I understand it was to highlight the isolation of her but it simply feels off and absolutely unreal. Not one scene she actually interacts with the house in Graceland. It’s always very brief or brutally interrupted.
I wish there was an issue with just the abuse. It was also the affection. It was the most empty relationship possible. Elvis gave me no reason to believe he even liked Priscilla. Maybe as a pet but only that. I am aware it might be the idea for the film but it just takes any (already broken) reality away from it. Even the most erotic of scenes didn’t give me the impression they actually loved one another.
I am not planning to compare it to any kind of reality. There is no point. I tried to see the film leaving the names behind. I wondered what I’d think if Elvis was a fictional Steve and Priscilla was a Jane out of a teenage girl’s fan fiction. Would it work?
Sandly, the only place it would, it’d be a Wattpad of a 14 year old that I once was, too (don’t ask).
The new Marie Antoinette
Another part of my issue is something I also noticed in Marie Antoinette (I watched it just 2 weeks prior). I believe it is much related to the director herself. Perhaps Sofia Coppola is not my jam. Since she’s been writing, directing and producing her films, it seems there hasn’t been anybody to make her notice that she gets lost in the picture and misses the actual story points.(2)2
Just as in Marie, Priscilla is a bunch of pretty pictures, tons of shopping bags and abusive substances. Things are happening but they have no cause nor result. There’re no consequences, the scenes are just there and nothing really connects all of these dots.
Most of them picture how bad the little girl feels. Either because of Elvis or other matters connected to him. There aren’t any breakdowns in a bathroom, no feelings whatsoever expressed on her face. A blunt acceptance of a trance she’s in. I truly tried to understand the best actress award from Venice but it beats me. Cailee is a pretty face (really young looking for her 25) but not much else to me. I can accept that her acting was very subtle, still the role was limited to one thing and one thing only.
I tend to believe Priscilla is the same thing that Sofia did in Marie Antoinette. The background is quite the same: a very young girl taken from home, trying to live up to enormous expectations. And it doesn’t end there. The beautiful castle, the money spent, “just girly things”, the contemporary music, the absent husband who does not want to have sex… It piles up.
It kind of looks like Sofia tried to redo the same film in a different setting. And if you enjoyed Marie Antoinette, you probably will dig Priscilla, too. My work here is done.
- Lisa Presley died in January 2023, the version of the film she saw was a draft only but it seems accurate enough. Source: Variety, that got to her emails with Sofia Coppola ↩︎
- This is not something uncommon. Directors need to be many things but sometimes they need a voice to make their work… work. Guillermo del Toro is another example that sometimes got lost in his stories (and I love him so much). ↩︎
PS. I hope you can differentiate between Priscilla – the film, and Priscilla – the character. I tried my best.