Saturday, November 04, 2023

Priscilla (2023 film)


Based on the memoir Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon, Priscilla is the story of the life of the woman who would become the wife of Elvis Presley as she deals with being this object of affection for the King of Rock N’ Roll and later his wife to eventually divorcing him in 1973 in order to find herself. Written and directed for the screen by Sofia Coppola, the film is a bio-pic of sorts that explores the life of this teenage girl stationed in West Germany when she meets Presley as she would later become his wife and mother to their only child while also watch him be lost in the need to be this icon to many as Cailee Spaeny portrays Priscilla Beaulieu and Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley. Also starring Dagmara Dominczyk, Rodrigo Fernandez Stoll, Raine Monroe Boland, Emily Mitchell, Dan Beirne, Dan Abramovic, R Austin Ball, and Evan Annisette. Priscilla is a rapturous yet evocative film from Sofia Coppola.

From late 1959 the day Priscilla Beaulieu met Elvis Presley at a house party to their divorce in 1973, the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla has always been a fascinating relationship as they were two people who fell in love and wanted a life together. Yet, being the wife of the King of Rock N’ Roll was anything but a fairytale due to the constant demands of Elvis’ career both in music and film as well as an addiction to drugs, affairs with other women, surrounding himself with friends who have nothing better to do with lives, and Colonel Tom Parker’s iron grip into controlling many aspects of Presley’s career and personal life. For Priscilla, it was a tumultuous life as she is forced to watch from afar reading tabloids about Elvis’ affairs and not being allowed to have a say into his career and such. What Sofia Coppola does isn’t just showcase the rollercoaster relationship between Elvis and Priscilla but also show it from the perspective of the latter from the night they met when she was only 14 and he was 24 years old at the time.

Coppola’s screenplay does follow a straightforward narrative yet it doesn’t aim for anything conventional in playing into this relationship between this young girl whose stepfather in Captain Beaulieu (Ari Cohen) is stationed in West Germany where an air force officer offers Priscilla to come to a party to meet Elvis. It is in that party where this 14-year old military brat meets Elvis who is stationed in West Germany due to the draft as he is happy to meet someone younger who is from America. Though the idea of a 14-year old girl and a 24-year old man is definitely a bad idea for its time then and now. The fact that these are two young Americans who connect because they’re homesick while Elvis is also still grieving the loss of his mother while Priscilla definitely acts a lot more mature than most young girls. Another aspect of Presley that is unique is that he does ask the permission of Captain Beaulieu and Priscilla’s mother Ann (Dagmara Dominczyk) as he doesn’t force himself upon Priscilla as well as being gentlemanly towards her. There is a structure to the script as its first act is set from 1959 to the early 1960s when Priscilla arrives at Graceland and eventually moves there though Elvis is on-off at the house.

Its second act plays into their life at Graceland but also Priscilla changing her look to please Elvis as well as other things that proved to be chaotic and it lead to their wedding in 1967 that would be followed by the birth of their only daughter Lisa Marie. The third act is about the events afterwards as well as the dissolution of their marriage. Yet, it is largely told through Priscilla’s perspective as she is welcomed to Graceland with the love and care of people but it is also shielded from knowing things about Elvis’ business and providing any input into his career and such. The one time Elvis asks for her opinion on the songs he’s given, she is met with a near violent moment that Elvis quickly apologizes for. Coppola does showcase Presley as a seriously flawed individual who is also trying to create a fantasy of the life he would want with Priscilla but the demands of his career eventually would take a toll on everything. Especially for the fact that Priscilla is someone that wants to be there for him but he keeps pushing away to the point that she would find herself as well as make a decision about their lives.

Coppola’s direction definitely echoes a lot of the visual style she’s known for in terms of not just the compositions she creates as well as this sugar-coated, candy-colored atmosphere that the titular character lives in. It’s also in the fact that it is a film that is about a young woman trying to connect with this iconic figure in who he really is other than what the world sees him. Shot largely on location in Toronto due to budgetary constraints with some second unit work at Memphis, Tennessee for the exteriors of the Presley home known as Graceland. Coppola aims for a minimalist visual approach as it is shot largely on digital with some 8mm film footage relating to home moves that Elvis and Priscilla had shot during their marriage. There are some wide shots in the film including scenes in and out of Graceland including a shot of Elvis leaving to go on tour as the shot becomes a wider shot of Priscilla and Lisa Marie waving bye to Elvis. Yet, much of Coppola’s direction is intimate with the usage of medium shots and close-ups as the film opens with images of objects on the floor including a young Lisa Marie with painted toe nails.

Graceland is a major character in the film as it is this home that is idyllic in some respects with its lavish bedrooms, large dining rooms, big living rooms, and an office where a couple of women run Elvis’ fan club that intrigues Priscilla as she wants to help but Elvis’ father Vernon (Tim Post) says no. For all of its beauty from within, Graceland is also this place that is suffocating where not a lot happens whenever Elvis isn’t at home as it add to this sense of isolation and disconnect that Priscilla deals with. Notably as she can’t bring outsiders to Graceland including classmates at a Memphis Catholic high school that she attends for her senior year while whatever time she has with Elvis on a social level. However, that would include the Memphis Mafia and whatever girlfriends they’re with as a lot of them are in their 20s going into their 30s with Priscilla not even reaching 18 at that point as she would later marry Elvis at the age of 21 and lose her virginity to him at that time. Coppola plays into this sense of isolation that Priscilla goes through while her time with Elvis is a rollercoaster as he could be the sweetest person in the world but he is also a child sometimes and would do things that does make him a horrible person. Still, Coppola’s treatment of Elvis isn’t to make him a monster but rather a flawed individual who is caught in a world that demands so much from him while he does little for his life at home.

The film’s third act has Coppola not only playing with structure as it begins with Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding and the birth of Lisa Marie but also this major shift in their lives following Elvis’ 1968 TV comeback special. Whereas much of the film’s first two acts play things out slowly, things become much faster in the third act due to Elvis going on the road and doing shows in Vegas as there’s few glimpses of Elvis performing with Priscilla watching from afar and being a mother as she also to deal with tabloids about his supposed affairs. There is this sense of burnout that Priscilla goes through but also it is where she begins to find herself from the shadows of Elvis as she also sees up close of the world he is in that he cannot escape. Coppola’s approach to the ending is more about the decision that Priscilla makes for herself and Lisa Marie but also a decision that would play into Elvis’ own demise. Overall, Coppola crafts a ravishing and compelling film about the life of a young woman who would become the wife of the King of Rock N’ Roll.

Cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd does incredible work with the film’s luscious cinematography with its emphasis on low-key lighting for many of the film’s daytime/nighttime interior scenes including some soft lighting for some scenes in Graceland as there’s a lot of low-key colors and soft lighting that play into the atmosphere with some low-key yet natural lighting for some of exterior scenes except in the scenes set in California. Editor Sarah Flack does brilliant work with the editing as it has this sense of fluidity in its montages but also in some stylish jump-cuts that add to the sense of energy in the film as well as some straight cuts that allow shots to linger for a bit. Production designer Tamara Deverell, with set decorator Patricia Cuccia and art director Danny Haeberlin, does amazing work with the look of the homes in West Germany that Elvis and Priscilla were living in as well as the many interiors for the rooms in Graceland. Costume designer Stacey Battat does excellent work with the costumes in many dresses and clothes that Priscilla would wear throughout the years as well as some clothes that Elvis wears which were designed from Valentino.

Hair designer Cliona Furey and makeup designer Jo-Ann MacNeil do fantastic work with the look of Priscilla in different periods of her life from the natural, girlish look in Germany and her early days in Graceland to the black hair and makeup during the film’s second act to a more subdued, naturalistic look towards the end of her marriage towards Elvis. Special effects supervisors Michael Innanen and Simone Quinlan, along with visual effects supervisors Kayla Cabral and Brannek Gaudet, do terrific work with some of the film’s visual dressing in some scenes including some exteriors in Las Vegas as well a key scene where Elvis and Priscilla try LSD for the first time. Sound designer Stephen Barden and sound editor Nelson Ferreira do superb work with the sound in the way gunshots sound on a location or how music is heard from afar as the atmosphere in the sound help play into the world that Priscilla is in.

The film’s music soundtrack that is supervised by the band Phoenix, along with Randall Poster, doesn’t feature any actual music by Elvis Presley other than a few performances by noted Elvis impersonators due to rights issues. Instead, Phoenix and Poster create a soundtrack that is intentionally anachronistic yet it somehow adds to the mood of the film as the soundtrack features some original score music by Sons of Raphael that include instrumental takes on some of the songs that are made famous by Presley. Along with music from that period such as Frankie Avalon, Brenda Lee, T.L. Barrett and the Youth Choir Chorus, the Little Dippers, the Soul Stirrers, Speedy West, the Orlons, and the Righteous Brothers. Some of the anachronistic music include a cover of the Ronettes’ Baby I Love You by the Ramones as well as music from Tommy James and the Shondells, Santana, and Alice Coltrane. There’s also some indie-rock/electronic-based music by Spectrum, Porches, Dan Deacon, and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith as well as some instrumental covers of songs from the 1950s/1960s by David Mansfield as well as a song by Dolly Parton as the film’s soundtrack is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Courtney Bright, John Buchan, Nicole Daniels, and Jason Knight is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Daniel Lipka as Priscilla’s younger half-brother Don, Evan Annisette as Elvis and Priscilla’s karate instructor Mike Stone, Olivia Barrett as Elvis’ cook Alberta, Lynne Griffin as Elvis’ grandmother Dodger, Luke Humphrey as the air force officer Terry West who introduces Priscilla to Elvis, Deanna Jarvis as West’s wife, the duo of Raine Monroe Boland and Emily Mitchell in their respective roles as the 3-year old and 5-year old versions of Lisa Marie Presley, R Austin Ball as Elvis’ spiritual advisor Larry Geller who tried to introduce Elvis to Eastern philosophies, and Tim Post as Elvis’ father Vernon who shields Priscilla from aspects relating to his son’s business affairs. Ari Cohen and Dagmara Dominczyk are superb in their respective roles as Priscilla’s stepfather Captain Paul Beaulieu and mother Ann Beaulieu with the former hesitant for Priscilla to go out with Elvis while the latter is a little more open upon realizing that Elvis has honorable intentions.

In roles of members of the Memphis Mafia, the performances of Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Dan Beirne, and Dan Abramovic in their respective roles of Alan “Hog Ears”, road manager Joseph Esposito, and talent agent Jerry Schilling as Elvis’ close friends who are fond of Priscilla while also helping Elvis out with everything that he needed. Jacob Elordi is incredible as Elvis Presley as Elordi captures the voice of Elvis as well as someone who is vulnerable due to the loss of his mother and the need to be with someone as pure as Priscilla. Elordi also brings in that sense of anger and anguish as a man who loves Priscilla but he also succumbs to his vices as well as the demands of a career that takes away from things that are really important to him.

Finally, there’s Cailee Spaeny in an outstanding leading performance as the titular character as she showcases nearly 15 years of Priscilla’s life from being a teenage girl to being a woman where Spaeny showcases the complexities of her character as well as someone who goes from being this love struck teenager to a woman that feels neglected, lost, and trapped in a world that expects a lot. It is a true break-out performance for Spaeny as she displays not just someone who is full of innocence early on but also someone who also gets frustrated as well as eventually finding her own voice in her role as a wife and mother. Spaeny and Elordi do have amazing chemistry as this couple who are considered royalty in American popular culture in the way they’re fond of each other but also play into the events that would cause their dissolution.

Priscilla is a spectacular film from Sofia Coppola that features a magnificent break-out performance from Cailee Spaeny. Along with an amazing supporting turn from Jacob Elordi as Elvis along with its ensemble cast, riveting character study, luscious visuals, and an incredible music soundtrack. It is a film that doesn’t play by the rules in exploring the life of a woman who is married to the King of Rock N’ Roll but also a study of a rollercoaster life in which a woman is a spectator while also yearning to connect with her husband and herself. In the end, Priscilla is a tremendous film from Sofia Coppola.

Sofia Coppola Films: Lick the Star - The Virgin Suicides - Lost in Translation - Marie Antoinette - Somewhere - The Bling Ring - A Very Murray Christmas - The Beguiled (2017 film) - On the Rocks

Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides OST - The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST) – (Priscilla OST)

Related: The Videos & Ads 1993-2008 - Favorite Films #1: Lost in Translation - The Auteurs #1: Sofia Coppola - Favorite Films #4: Somewhere - 10 Reasons Why Lost in Translation is the Best Film Ever... - 10 Things I Want to See in a Criterion 4K UHD Blu-Ray for Lost in Translation - Elvis (1979 TV film) - (Elvis (2022 film))

© thevoid99 2023


ruth said...

I know you've been anticipating this, so I'm glad it delivers! I missed the screening as it happened in the midst of TCFF, but I'll definitely watch it once it arrives on streaming. Curious to see Cailee Spaeny's performance, never heard of her before. Let's see if Jacob Elordi would impress me as much as Austin Butler's performance as Elvis.

keith71_98 said...

Terrific review. Even with my few reservations, I can't get Spaeny's performance out of my mind. Sooo looking forward to seeing this one again.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-I've seen a few things Cailee has been in such as Bad Times at the El Royale (which I totally recommend) as well as The Craft: Legacy (terrible film) and Pacific Rim: Uprising (an unnecessary and shit film). She's worth watching as she's someone to look forward to.

@keith71_98-Thank you. Spaeny is just phenomenal as she deserves a lot of accolades though I won't be surprised if she gets overlooked during awards season which is going to be criminal because she knocked it out of the park.

ruth said...

I missed Bad Times at the El Royale, boy that movie has quite a cast! I definitely will check this out when it's out on VOD!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-Definitely watch Bad Times at the El Royale and believe me. After this film and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, you will never think of Deep Purple's cover of "Hush" the same away again as it makes me think of hot Aussie actors.