A bold, jet black cat eye, a full set of false lashes and a comically voluminous bouffant hairdo is how the world came to know Priscilla Presley. Queen of female isolation, director Sophia Coppola dissects a lonely woman’s life and marriage and forces audiences to view a timeless icon as a beast through the piercing blue eyes of “Priscilla.”
The film serves as a timeline of Priscilla’s life starting when she meets an already famous Elvis. A 24-year-old Elvis finds himself enamored with Priscilla’s as a 14-year-old schoolgirl, and they begin a romantic relationship that any 60s fangirl could only dream of. The relationship loses its charm quickly, however, as Elvis’ controlling demeanor clashes with Priscilla’s lovesick nature.
Coppola previously directed “The Virgin Suicides” and “Marie Antoninette,” and this delicate feminine aesthetic transfers to “Priscilla” perfectly. With muted pastels, bold character fashion, and emphasis on facial expressions, the director focuses on strong imagery to convey the complexities of being a young woman yearning for human connection. Loneliness is a common theme in her films and the audience members feel as insignificant as Priscilla as she is constantly pushed away by her husband and left alone in a world she doesn’t understand.
The acting is impeccable. Priscilla is portrayed by newcomer Cailee Spaeny, and her performance is subtle but speaks volumes to female audiences. She is able to play a youthful spirit constrained by the role of a woman and wife while showing sparks of fury under the surface. While adolescence and young adulthood are a time for wild emotions, Priscilla had to bite her tongue and keep a “mature” image to satisfy Elvis, and Spaeny makes this frustration palpable. Jacob Elordi commonly plays the antagonistic men in his works, but his portrayal of Elvis was bone chilling. One minute the charming, beloved musical idol, the next a temperamental and indifferent husband. His quick duality was unpredictable, and it is easy to feel as enamored and terrified as Pricilla did.
The movie’s visuals drive its characters and narrative, best exemplified by the two actors’ alarming physical contrast. Elordi is 6’5” while Spaeny is 5’1”, making her look innocent and timid while her partner dominates any room he is in. Priscilla purposefully fades into the shadows of her own movie, despite the bold fashion and baubles she is surrounded by. The close up shots of Priscilla applying heavy makeup, the beautiful scenes of Graceland, and the dainty details of her outfits speak louder than the simple dialogue. Her appearance itself tells the audience where we are in her life, from her schoolgirl uniform and lack of makeup to her iconic black hair and bold makeup.
To be a woman is to perform, and Coppola perfectly portrays this quiet exhaustion of being a woman struggling to balance her own needs while taking on the burden of her partner’s wants. This film is vulnerable and shows the discomfort in an age gap romance that Elvis fanatics choose to ignore. Priscilla’s coming of age story isn’t joyful. But her isolation and unspoken opinions and dreams created an audience full of women who feel understood and connected to their femininity.
“Priscilla” is showing in theaters now.