Priscilla movie review: Slowly and surely ties a bowtie noose around your neck | Hollywood - Hindustan Times
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Priscilla review: Sofia Coppola's film slowly and surely ties a bowtie noose around your neck

ByDevansh Sharma
Dec 16, 2023 06:27 AM IST

Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Priscilla Presley memoir, on her love story with Elvis Presley is a mood piece between dark and musical.

In an exclusive interview with this writer, Sofia Coppola said her movie on Priscilla Presley is designed as a ‘doll stuck in a doghouse.’ Priscilla consistently feels like that – the girlhood of a teenager restricted by the palatial mansion of a grown-up man at the peak of his career. But the dog seldom bites or barks, it only growls as soon as the doll takes a spring in her step, forcing her to recede to the shadows.

Cailee Spaeny plays Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola's movie
Cailee Spaeny plays Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola's movie

(Also Read: Sofia Coppola interview: ‘I wanted to tell Priscilla and Elvis Presley’s love story without judgement')

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Fairy tale gone wrong

Sofia retains what Priscilla reiterates in her 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, that there was deep love between her and Elvis Presley. She meets him through a common acquaintance when she's 14 and he's 24. To her, Elvis symbolises the rebellion and freedom that's been kept away from her in the contained army upbringing. Like her parents, we fear her getting smitten by Elvis, but Sofia makes sure the story marches on with the combined force of fate and a young girl's agency.

Priscilla is not taken in by Elvis' music or his larger-than-life personality. In fact, she's in love with his small gestures and giant sweeps in love, including him asking her parents to move her to his mansion at Graceland. With cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd's scrutinising lens and editor Sarah Flack's carefully crafted beats, Sofia builds what could be a fairy tale gone wrong. She fills the room with darkness in daylight.

Gentle gaslighting

The fear of grooming, however, starts to dissipate once Priscilla moves in with Elvis. He doesn't dominate her, far from that. Instead, he's an absentee partner/husband who makes Priscilla wait alone for days, as he goes on long outdoor shoots. Like her, we learn of his various affairs through gossip magazines. But once he convinces her they're hearsay, we can't help but wave the red flag in front of her lovelorn eyes.

Costume designer Stacey Battat dolls up Priscilla from head to toe, with her signature eyelashes intact. Not even once is she seen without her hair all brushed up. It not only makes us feel protective of her, but also underlines how women of that generation needed to fit into a cosmetic type at every age. While Sofia clearly didn't get the rights to use Elvis' music, Phoenix's score invokes a melody acutely similar to an Elvis earworm, but uses it as a mild, haunting melody for Priscilla.

The performances

Cailee gets the memo right, as she spends most of her screentime in company of herself than that of Elvis. She doesn't go all Kristen-Stewart-in-Spencer with the alleged gaslighting. But she stares blankly outside her posh mansion so yearningly that you can't help but wish for a different life for her. Jacob Elordi as Elvis uses his tall and lean physicality to tower over the petite Priscilla. But in intense scenes where he snaps out of his romantic armour, he lets out a silent scream of help. Even though Sofia's focus is determinedly stuck on Priscilla, Jacob's full-bodied portrayal of Elvis never allows him to turn into an oppressor.

The most fulfilling and definitive part of Priscilla is the end. When she's finally had enough, including after two encounters that turn physical and even sexual, Priscilla decides to walk out. But she does so with such a wholesome mix of pain and pride that it makes your heart break and then soar. As she drives out of Elvis' mansion herself, Whitney Houston's I'll Always Love You swells in the background. “If I should stay, I would only be in your way,” is the very line that defines the love of young women of those time – they place high currency on sacrifice, but not at the cost of one's agency. Sofia Coppola does exactly that with her movie on Priscilla.

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