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Culture > Entertainment

‘Priscilla’: A Spoiler-Free Review of Sofia Coppola’s Newest Intimate Spectacle

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pace chapter.

After attending the New York Film Festival to see Priscilla on the night of its North American Premiere, the dazzling A24 period piece has not left my mind.

As a film fanatic, it was only natural for me to join the online queue this year in an attempt to score tickets to the 61st New York Film Festival. This fall’s catalog is absolutely stacked with several critically acclaimed films, including the rumored last film from Studio Ghibli Director Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron, Poor Things with Willem Dafoe and Emma Stone, and David Fincher’s new film, The Killer. However, as a college student on a budget, I limited myself to purchasing a single movie ticket. In talks of which film, in particular, I would choose, as a massive fan of Jacob Elordi and admirer of Sofia Coppola, it was only natural that I prioritize seeing Priscilla — Coppola’s upcoming biopic starring Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley and Elordi supporting as Elvis Presley. By some last-minute miracle, my friend and I were lucky enough to find tickets to a showing of the film on its first-day screening in North America, featuring cast and crew appearances. 

As my friend and I approached the entrance to our theater on Oct. 6, we were met by a line of black SUVs on our left and a group of squealing girls on our right, each with a sharpie and paper of some sort in hand. Although this celebrity hysteria certainly set an interesting scene for the evening, we deemed securing our spots to be more important as we flocked into the 1,000+ seat theater. Soon enough, Spaeny and Elordi were gliding across the front stage to introduce Priscilla to North America. Their excessive height difference was evident, already foreshadowing their strikingly different characterizations in the film. The two were granted permission to represent the film amid the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike after Priscilla received a SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreement. Spaeny, Elordi, and a few other creative crew members briefly presented the film before the lights dimmed for the screening.

Priscilla is a deep exploration of the relationship between Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu — the smaller cast allows viewers to focus exclusively on their flame. Although the audience may think that they know one story, Priscilla Presley herself works extensively with Coppola and the film’s crew and talent in order to showcase more truth about their relationship to the world. She produced the film, which is based on her book, Elvis and Me. Although their love is the core of the film, it specifically centers on Priscilla and her experience being suddenly associated with the world of fame, drugs, and violence, throwing the audience in with her. While overall, the film can be quite serious in tone, it ultimately surprised me with its higher levels of satire and comedy. Coppola allows you to sit back and laugh, whether that’s out of discomfort, shock, or genuine glee. She also makes for quite a comfortable environment aesthetically, utilizing stellar production design as the leads stride through wonderfully serene and old-timey rooms of Graceland.

Sofia Coppola is no stranger to directing through the lens of the “female gaze,” and it certainly shows throughout the film. Cailee Spaeny, who plays Priscilla Presley, has already received some flowers for her work in the role, winning the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. She is absolutely undeniable as Priscilla, capable of encompassing all of the feelings and nuances of both a little schoolgirl and a mature mother. Spaeny knows exactly how to convey naivety and sadness in each flash of her eye, and presents the viewer with a masterclass in crafting a lead protagonist out of a classic story where that is so often not the case. Speaking of the usual star within this famous tale of love, the “King of Rock & Roll” himself is played by Jacob Elordi, who approaches the demanding role with a sense of calm wisdom. He portrays Elvis as a warm and sensitive presence, stripping away the popular caricature of brilliance and glamour that we are so familiar with. He is an intellectual, tender soul, and can also pose a threat, even just standing on his own. It was excellent casting to juxtapose such a tall brooding force with a small, soft-spoken lead in order to immediately leave room for natural intimidation from Elvis in every shared scene.

In mainstream media, this movie, even ahead of its release, has had quite an influence. Priscilla is often compared to the extravaganza of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (2022), which is the complete opposite in both aesthetic and narrative. There is a fine amount of criticism comparing Butler and Elordi’s respective portrayals of the King of Rock and Roll, and I can attest that they both go above and beyond channeling Elvis effectively through the unique artistic visions and executions of each respective film. Although the films are only a year apart, I argue that this was the perfect time for a fresher, contrasted perspective through Priscilla’s release, and find conversations pairing the films head-to-head to be quite interesting.

Overall, Coppola is unsurprisingly a marvel in conjuring up Priscilla, a directorial standout for the already well-established filmmaker. The film beautifully captures the simplicity and purity of girlhood and its sudden fusion with such a powerful force of the late ‘50s. 

Priscilla hits theaters on Nov.3.

Grace Jeffrey is thrilled to be Her Campus at Pace's treasurer for the 2024-2025 school year! She enjoys writing pieces within the scope of film, music, and other areas of pop culture, as well as themes revolving around facets of her current home — New York City. While living in her hometown in North Texas, Grace became immersed in the worlds of filmmaking and writing. In high school, she began taking more advanced film and writing courses and became a finalist in her district’s film festival. She has also worked at a local ice cream shop as well as professionally pet-sitting. In college, Grace is currently majoring in Film and Screen Studies with a minor in Arts and Entertainment Management. She is Head of Marketing at Rainy Day Productions, Social Media Manager in Pace Film Club, and holds roles in many other organizations. She also works at AMC Theaters, her favorite movie theater chain. In her free time, Grace loves going to concerts, the movie theatre, and browsing the city — whether it's with friends or solo! However, most importantly, she loves starting scripts and creating brand new cinematic universes. On Mondays, she co-hosts Cinema GEMs, a movie-tell-all with her best friend Emma on their college radio station. When off-the-air, you can always catch her listening to 5 Seconds of Summer on her city strides. She loves taste-testing various NYC pizzas around the city, and, above all else, living with her four best friends.