He was the King of Rock and Roll, but who was she? Sofia Coppola shines a light on a young girl nobody knew who became the woman behind the most famous, desired man on the planet. She is Priscilla. Impeccably shot with beautifully recreated fashions, but Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi delivering fierce performances aren’t enough to elevate a surface view of the famous whirlwind romance. Lionsgate delivers a Blu-ray with an excellent A/V presentation and a nice selection of extras, but the film lacks punch for such culturally dynamic characters. Worth A Look
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Over 45 years after his death, Elvis Aaron Presley remains one of the most successful and fascinating recording artists of our era. Countless novels, articles, television series, and films have chronicled his rise to fame and his tragic fall. While it’s Elvis’ world, young Priscilla Beaulieu was a part of it and endured the best and worst the King of Rock and Roll could offer. Until she wrote her own 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, the woman was little more than a side character in the man's story. The story of those tumultuous times was never about her. Sophia Coppola takes her sharp eye for staging human drama and focuses on one of the most famous pop culture romances of the 20th century with Priscilla.
She used to be known as Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny). She was a simple, average fourteen-year-old girl living on a U.S. Army Base in Germany with her parents. She just so happened to be living there at the same time the most famous musician of a generation happened to be serving his tour of duty. When young Priscilla was invited to the house of Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi), what girl her age would say no? One invitation became two. Two became three. Three became a trip back to the United States to stay at his house, Graceland. A visit to Graceland became permanent. As their romance blossoms, Priscilla grows from a simple teenager into a woman fully in the shadow of Elvis’ blinding spotlight. And within that shadow lurks the darkness of Graceland the tabloids never saw.
As I mentioned in my recent review of Lenny, I don’t have much love for Biopics. I will watch them, especially if the subject at hand is interesting and I like the filmmakers behind the project. The ones I enjoy I think are pretty great. The ones I don’t like I cast off as completely forgettable and unlikely to revisit. Usually, that’s because they’re too shiny and overly complimentary and vapid. In the case of Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 Elvis, Austin Butler certainly delivered a dynamic performance but it was the film’s frenetic pace, disjointed tone, and casting Tom Hanks’ Col. Parker as a weird boogeyman with a bad accent that ankled the impact of that film. Now we have Sophia Coppola’s take on key events in the life of Elvis Presley with Priscilla intent to focus the story from her perspective.
While I appreciated the approach to this film and giving Priscilla Presley a voice beyond being a side character in Elvis’ story, the film itself is frustratingly antiseptic and clinical. But then, in its way, so was Priscilla’s memoir on which this film was based. In her book, Priscilla Presley went out of her way to simply state events as they happened without flamboyant embellishment, speculative pondering, or trying to damage the legacy of her deceased ex-husband. This film keeps true to that approach (somewhat), but it also doesn’t let us see Elvis or Priscilla as tangible human characters. As Coppola moves her camera throughout Graceland and observes the high fashion and adornments, the film feels more like we’re watching characters in a medically sealed isolation chamber. We watch them, but we never know who they are.
To be fair to the actors, Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi are clearly working their asses off. Spaeny exudes the innocence of a confused young girl as she grows into a woman trapped in a world not of her making. Elordi might slip a tad into parody with his Elvis accent, but in terms of physicality and intensity, he is fierce and dynamic. But in terms of getting to know these real-life characters as human beings through these actors’ performances, Priscilla just didn’t do it for me. They always feel too distant even when they're framed in extreme closeup.
It’s a lavish production, almost slavish to perfectly recreate the look and feel of an era, but it never really captures the character. We see Priscilla Beaulieu humbly living an average life with an average house and some of the latest modern conveniences. Then we watch as Priscilla Presley basks in elegant vogue hairstyles, makeup, and clothing. There are moments where the film tries to infer that Elvis is a groomer, staking her out and systematically molding her into what he wants her to be. Some moments suggest Elvis may have been a closeted homosexual or at least doubted or questioned his sexuality. But the film never is bold enough to push those threads beyond a scene or two before being dropped for another fashion and makeup montage.
While I don’t generally look forward to Biopics, I was excited to see what a filmmaker like Sophia Coppola could do with this material. As she’s demonstrated countless times now in past (better) films, she has a knack for capturing the mood, style, and feeling of a unique time and place. But her other films like Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, or even her remake of The Beguiled at least had a sense of humanity in the characters. Priscilla didn’t capture that humanity. I felt like it was just great actors delivering excellent performances while caught in a maze of artifice.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Priscilla comes home to Blu-ray in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital release from Lionsgate. Pressed on a BD-50 disc (but only uses 32 gigs of that space), the discs are housed in a two-disc eco-friendly case with a slipcover. The disc loads to an animated main menu with standard navigation options.
Presented in 1.85:1, this is a simply gorgeous 1080p transfer. I had really wanted to see this film in theaters but never could cut the time to do that and as a first-time experience at home, I was very impressed. Primarily shot digitally, cinematographer Philippe Le Sound also mixed in some 8mm and 16mm to complete the look and feel of the era without leaving the image with too much of a spit-polish digital shine. Details are terrific letting the image absorb fine facial features while giving all of the makeup work and attention to fashion and production design plenty of focus. Colors are bright and vibrant with nice primary saturation and healthy skin tones.
Audio rolls in with an effective DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. The film wasn’t allowed to use any of Elvis’ music so Phoenix did recreations of music from the era to give a sense of the period during different phases in Priscilla’s relationship with Elvis. Sound effects are well prioritized giving plenty of atmosphere and dimension throughout the channels. It’s not the most aggressive or immersive experience, but it doesn’t sit in the Front/Center stage for long without letting the surround channels do their part. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without any issues.
The bonus features joining this release of Priscilla are a bit on the thin side, but they’re at least informative. At the start of the pile, Brushed With Beauty is a very brief behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. At just over ten minutes, it doesn’t rely on skimpy EPK talking head segments and actually explores important aspects of casting, bringing the characters to life, and the approach to the story. The meatiest piece is The Making of Priscilla A Film by Liv McNeil. At just under 30 minutes, it gets into more of the micro aspects of the making of the film. We get to hear more from Coppola, the cast, and other crew members. It’s a well-produced piece and a nice compliment to the film.
- Brushed With Beauty: Creating Priscilla’s Story (HD 10:24)
- The Making of Priscilla A Film by Liv McNeil (HD 27:14)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Also From A24
After the bombastic hyperactive Elvis, I was looking forward to Sophia Coppola’s Priscilla. Where Baz Luhrmann's film was too frenetic for its own good, Coppola’s film is too distant. While the focus on Priscilla Presley’s side of the story is appreciated and unique, the film is such a surface observation of events I never felt like I was getting to know and understand these dynamic personalities. A beautiful-looking film, it scores an excellent Blu-ray and I imagine if or when A24 decides to do their own 4K release that will look excellent. For now, this Blu-ray certainly delivers the best its got for fans with a great A/V package and a slim but interesting assortment of extras. Worth A Look.
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