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  • Colin Fraser


THREE AND A HALF STARS A hopeless relationship is forged when a teenage girl is introduced to the world's most famous pop star.


Starring Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi

Priscilla Beaulieu was a 14 year old high-schooler when one of Elvis Presley’s scouts invited her to meet the world’s most famous pop star (then 24). It’s an early scene in this dramatised biopic from Sofia Coppola (MARIE ANTIONETTE), one that doesn’t state that Presley or anyone on his team was a paedophile exactly, but it comes close. As if to say ‘times were different back then’ (and they were), PRISCILLA nods at our fresher sensibilities then plows on with exploring the romance of its generation.

It’s fair to say that Priscilla was in from the get-go, and why not? Here was a sensationally handsome, artistic, sensitive, popular, global sensation who was looking at her. More importantly, he was listening to her, he was the gateway to an infinitely more interesting world and how many teenagers wouldn’t want some of that? Her parents, though wary, approved and within months she was spending more time with him than at home. Shortly after, Priscilla moved to Graceland with all the trappings that love, fame and fortune could provide. Emphasis on trap.

Despite the technicolour nature of the story, PRISCILLA is a surprisingly muted telling of pop’s great love story. Well, love and hate story. It’s not a bold romance. Coppola keeps a lid on the noise and mayhem that surrounded Elvis to create a much more intimate, resonate portrait of America’s sweetheart. It’s the yin to Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS yang. And, as the title would suggest, Coppola keeps the focus very much on Priscilla as the young girl navigates her way to adulthood amid the adjacent hysteria.

In many ways, this isn’t one of Coppola’s best films. It lacks the creative urgency of MARIE ANTIONETTE and the urbane cool of LOST IN TRANSLATION. However it stands out from the pack because of the measured, analytical way in which she approaches her subject. The film doesn’t give in to cinematic temptation and lets the narrative unfold in a quietly seductive way. It’s calm and unhurried, and neatly makes a point about Priscilla’s way of being that’s at odds with her husband. 

Cailee Spaeny does an excellent job of capturing all the anger and frustration generated by a life she’s effectively trapped herself into. It quickly becomes apparent that she’s unsure how to escape her gilded cage or the control of men in her life (father, husband, management). No amount of luxury will compensate for the irony, the disillusionment or loss of freedom, and as the story approaches its abrupt ending, it’s clear Coppola has no more idea of how to resolve the problem than Priscilla does. Which is kind of the point.

Perhaps if the young girl had been allowed to grow up first, to find her own life before being subsumed by his, things may have been different. But she wasn’t and they weren’t. That’s this story of PRISCILLA.



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