June 20, 2024

‘Priscilla’: An almost beautiful mess

Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” was released on Nov. 3 and is the latest film from A24. 

The film tells the story of Priscilla Presley, specifically her relationship with rock legend Elvis Presley.

This is Sofia Coppola’s eighth narrative feature, and her third collaboration with A24, her first being “The Bling Ring” and her second being “On the Rocks.” 

Coppola and A24 are perfect for each other as the quality of their films are so inconsistent. While Coppola has never made a ‘terrible’ movie, only about a fourth of them are critically-acclaimed. “Lost in Translation” earned Coppola an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and her debut feature “The Virgin Suicides” has proven to be a cult classic and is now #920 in the Criterion Collection, “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films.”


However, all of her other films, especially her previous two collaborations with A24, have not gotten great reviews.

Similarly, A24 is the studio behind “Aftersun,” “Lady Bird,” “Uncut Gems” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” but they’re also the studio behind “Slice,” “Zola” and “Men,” films that are forgettable and/or disliked.

Photo via Flickr. Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray on the set of the Academy-Award winning “Lost in Translation”

 “Priscilla” is definitely not one of A24’s best, but it’s probably one of Coppola’s best, which unfortunately isn’t saying much given her track record.

How You Satisfy Me

The best part of the film is definitely the set design. Coppola’s production design team recreated 1959-1972 perfectly, or at least everyone’s perception of 1959-1972. The costume designer and hair and makeup team also did a great job of making Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny look like their respective characters. A post on A24’s X, formerly known as Twitter, account showcased just how much these departments got Elordi and Spaeny to look like Elvis and Priscilla with a side by side comparison.

The acting is also a standout of the movie. Spaeny is very reserved, but you can still tell exactly what she is feeling, which really emphasizes her youth, especially in relation to Elvis. Elordi does a great job of playing Elvis as a person, not a superstar/hero as portrayed by Austin Butler in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis.” Elordi masters all of Elvis’ “Elvis-isms” but never draws the focus away from Priscilla as this is her story being told.

The music is also good, which is standard for Coppola. In the whole film, there are maybe one or two Elvis songs, which again keeps the focus on Priscilla and doesn’t let Elvis win.

Unfortunately though, the best shot in the movie is of Elvis performing.

Rippling Waters

While “Priscilla” does have several pros, the cons unfortunately outweigh them.

The film is boring, which is hard to control since it is based on a true story, but there are structural and pacing strategies that can be used through the film’s editing to make it more interesting. Furthermore, even though it’s a true story, there are still ways you can write the truth and still have interesting dialogue. For example, “The Social Network” is essentially a courtroom drama, but Aaron Sorkin’s writing, David Fincher’s directing and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score makes it one of the most energetic and entertaining films of all time. Coppola was close with the directing, and she was close with the music, but the writing just seemed so bland.

The pacing was more of an issue than the dialogue, though. The editing is not terrible; it still watches like a movie, but the scenes just move so slow without any clear direction. Time also gets confusing. 

Priscilla will look a little different sometimes, but Elvis looks the exact same, so it’s hard to tell if they’ve really moved forward in time or not, even though Elvis, similar to David Bowie, is known for having phases in his appearance. The film takes place from 1959-1972, but it’s really only clear when they get to the ‘70s (which lasts for about ten minutes and then the movie ends abruptly).

Something that also didn’t make sense was the general idea of the film. This may have been due to the way it was marketed and explained by the general public. The film’s trailer makes it clear it’s mainly about Priscilla even though Elvis is in it, but the people who saw the trailer turned it into almost a revenge story. Elvis was glorified in the 2022 Baz Luhrmann film, even though he was a terrible person; now it’s “Priscilla” (2023)’s turn to make Priscilla the hero.

If that is the case, then the film should’ve told more of her story rather than just her relationship with Elvis. One of the first lines in the film is “Do you like Elvis Presley?” which occurs maybe four minutes into the movie.

While the consumers of the trailers are mainly the ones who planted the idea of this revenge movie, if any of the filmmakers did in fact have this as one of their goals, then they shouldn’t have reduced Priscilla to being “Elvis’s wife” instead of an actual person.

Going Home

In the end “Priscilla” is something that could have been great. Sofia Coppola certainly is not terrible at her job, and she has made good movies (like “The Virgin Suicides,” one of the best films made in the last 30 years), but “Priscilla” feels like a low effort project from almost everyone who worked on it. Everything was there, it just did not stick the landing.

Author

  • Charlie Rinehart

    Charlie is a first-year Creative Writing major. In his free time he enjoys drinking iced coffee and watching terrible horror movie sequels.

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