By – Gareth Jones
For fans of Sofia Coppola, biopics, new perspectives on known stories
Like many great artists, Sofia Coppola has created her art around a singular theme. In her case, it is the story of young women coming of age in the world of fame, fortune, and notoriety. Of course, she comes at this from her own unique experience that gives these stories a level of authenticity, astuteness, and genuine empathy. In her latest film, Coppola turns her keen and insightful eye to the early life of Priscilla Presley, her relationship with Elvis, and her eventual independence.
The film follows Priscilla Beaulieu from her isolated life in Germany as a 14 year old all the way through her leaving Elvis at the age of 28. Along the way, Coppola gives Priscilla a voice that she has not had in such a way before. It is based on her autobiography, Elvis and Me, published in 1985, which has already been adapted once in a television miniseries in 1988. 35 years later, Coppola gives her interpretation (working along with Priscilla in the process) in a much more condensed version, but also giving a stronger voice to Priscilla in the process. You can tell that Sofia relates to her on a deeply personal level. Being the center of attention and derision is something she has dealt with her whole life and she, like Priscilla, has succinctly carved out her own path. This film beautifully chronicles that journey.
Here, she is portrayed by relative newcomer (a needed aspect in the role of someone so famous) Cailee Spaeny who started her career in Pacific Rim: Uprising and has had several previous roles in biopics including Vice, On the Basis of Sex, and the mini-series The First Lady. She first landed on my radar with a strong performance in Mare of Eastown where she held her own with Kate Winslet. Here, she does a remarkable job playing Priscilla from the age of 14 to 28 and is believable at all stages. She has the presence to dominate a room in spite of her small size. Her demeanor starts small but increases exponentially as she gains insights through the unrelenting pressure of being the love of Elvis. It is a career-making performance and I am eager to see her future roles.
The role of Elvis is played by Australian actor Jacob Elordi, who is having quite the year between this film and the new Emerald Fennell film, Saltburn. He is most well-known however for being on the HBO series Euphoria. His towering frame and physique are a major part of his performance and become symbolic of Elvis’s relationship to Priscilla. He is also excellent, especially considering the attention given to Austin Butler in the recent Baz Lurhmann production.
One of Sofia’s hallmarks is her cinematography and here she teams up with French master Philippe Le Sourd for the third time. She began collaborating with him with The Beguiled and like that film, they create a hazy, dream-like aesthetic that mirrors the emotions of the characters while also bringing in an authenticity to the time period. This is further enhanced by the costume design of Stacey Battat and the production design of Tamara Deverell. Coppola is astute in finding artists to continually work with and that continues with this film. As always, the music is perfectly matched, no Elivs songs but plenty of songs (many anachronistic) by independent women like Alice Coltrane and Dolly Parton.
It has been a pleasure to see each film that Coppola has made and watch here continue to develop and examine the perspectives of women. This has become even more profound to me as the father of girls. I also gained a much deeper appreciation for Priscilla as a fully rounded individual, similarly to how I gained a new perspective on Marie Antoinette. I am eager to see who she examines next.
See it in the theater if you can!
Written by: Gareth Jones
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