Acting as an unexpected companion piece to last year's orgiastic biopic Elvis, Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Priscilla Presley's memoir Elvis and Me is a refreshing counterargument to the King's legacy. If you recall, Priscilla was given just about one line in that film "I'm your wife!" It is easy to see what drew Coppola to this material as Priscilla shares a similar struggle that other protagonists of hers have had of having womanhood thrust upon them. She paints a full picture of Priscilla here. The film shows the groomed prison that a young fourteen-year-old found herself in with one of the world's biggest stars. The film never eases up on the alarming nature of their relationship.
The brilliant casting emphasizes that. Jacob Elordi towers over Cailee Spaeny in every scene. His physical presence communicates so much about their relationship dynamics. The ten-year difference between them hangs over every scene. I personally couldn't help but think of R. Kelly and Aaliyah while watching the film. Even during the film's woozy first act where Priscilla is wooed by Elvis, his presence is intimidating, almost suffocating.
Elvis, as portrayed by Elordi, is quiet. His Southern charm oozes and his matter-of-fact demands of her never feel as harsh as they are felt. Spaeny is a revelation as Priscilla, showing how she fell into this prison-like state by just swooning over this Southern gentleman. When she moves to Graceland, we see her light begin to diminish quickly as she is told what to wear, how to spend her time, and not to worry about the tabloid stories of her husband's affairs. Elvis becomes a spectral presence, haunting her life while rarely being a part of it. It's a powerful picture of a toxic relationship and a side of this story not told. The film is structured more as a series of moments that build to Priscilla's eventual catharsis and release from this situation than a straightforward narrative. As a result, the film feels true to life and an honest portrayal of this destructive marriage. Coppola's direction keeps its focus on Priscilla, her growing liberation, and the realities of being married to such a star. Occasionally her approach gives the film a directionless feel but the overall effect of it creates a deeply felt portrait of a public figure often kept in the shadows.
Priscilla is routinely stunning to look at. Patricia Cuccia's set decoration, Stacey Battat's costume design, and Philippe Le Sourd's cinematography combine to create a wonderfully realized period film. Coppola's use of montage has always been wonderful and it is used here to great effect often. The film may sag a bit in its middle sections but the fantastic lead performance by Spaeny keeps you engaged until its cathartic ending.