Critics said star Cailee Spaeny "gives such an intimate, lived-in performance" as Priscilla Presley and Jacob Elordi "finds his own way into the character" of Elvis Presley
Starring Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley and Cailee Spaeny as his ex-wife, Priscilla is based on the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me. Priscilla, 78, appeared at the Venice premiere Monday to promote the A24 film alongside Coppola, Elordi and Spaeny on the red carpet.
Among the first reviews to arrive Monday afternoon, Variety critic Owen Gleiberman called Priscilla “a piercingly honest drama” that approaches its subjects with “meticulous docudrama authenticity.”
“The book that the new movie is based on was Elvis and Me. But Coppola’s film is called, simply, Priscilla, and that cues us to something essential: that the movie, while you could describe it as a love story, is not going to be told from a dual point-of-view.”
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Gleiberman also referenced the fact that Priscilla was 14 when she met the late King of Rock 'n' Roll in West Germany in 1959, saying this story is “about the honest affection they shared, rooted in the fact that both of them, literally or in spirit, were overgrown kids.”
Spaeny, he added, “has an avid stare and a sharpness of spirit, and she makes a point of playing the teenage Priscilla as a typical American girl of her time, courtly and decorous, though with a taste for adventure. After all, she’s living in the world after Elvis Presley remade it!”
The Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney wrote that Priscilla “elegantly upgrades a key player in the Elvis legend from the sidelines, and anyone attuned to Coppola’s distinctive wavelengths will find it a pleasurably emotional experience.”
Rooney noted that Elordi “finds his own way into the character, pouring seductive charm and undeniable magnetism into the sad eyes and sleepy speech patterns. But he never shies away from the more off-putting traits — the fits of pique, the petulance, the evasiveness and dishonesty.”
Indiewire's David Ehrlich praised the film's “focus on a girl who slowly grows out of her childhood fantasy.”
Ehrlich added that Coppola’s “soft and muted” approach contrasts with Luhrmann’s “orgiastic blockbuster,” instead choosing “to frame this claustrophobic marriage story as a gradual process of separation. Not just Priscilla’s separation from Elvis and the endless shadow of his celebrity, but also her separation from her parents, from her own iconography, and from everyone and everything else that tried to define her before she was able to define herself.”
Many critics considered Priscilla’s place in Coppola’s evolving filmography. The writer-director, wrote Ehrlich, “has made a career out of freeing privileged girls from gilded cages… From Lost in Translation to Marie Antoinette, her films have often framed marriage as the purgatorial first step in a heroine’s path towards actual personhood.”
Deadline's Stephanie Bunbury wrote, “Coppola has been at her best when observing the workings of fame, affluence and excess, not trying to skewer or accuse anyone but simply registering what she sees. The strength of her films is that seems to see everything.”
Bunbury added that Priscilla is “a damning view of a man and — eventually — a marriage… Most people know the bare bones of the Presley story. Told from his former wife’s point of view, however, it becomes another story altogether.”
For The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote that the film’s subject “becomes Memphis’s very own Lady Diana, with Ann-Margret or Nancy Sinatra in the Camilla Parker-Bowles role.” Elordi, he said, uses “no Elvis-impersonation pyrotechnics to upstage Spaeny’s Priscilla.”
“Coppola’s portrait is absorbing, especially in Priscilla’s child phase, and if it is less distinctive in its final section, as Priscilla becomes more briskly disillusioned and realistic about what to expect, then that is to be expected,” Bradshaw concluded. “Her credulous servitude and innocence is more dramatic and more poignant. This film says a great deal about Elvis and the dysfunctional business he was in and Priscilla’s modest integrity and courage.”
In a review for Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote that Elordi portrays Elvis “as a man who floats further and further away from the woman he loves, like an astronaut whose tether has been cut, even though he yearns for closeness and connection. He’s not a bad guy; he’s just a mess. And in this story, he’s just an accessory to the heroine. It’s not his story.”
“Spaeny gives such an intimate, lived-in performance that some viewers may not think it’s enough. That’s because she’s playing Priscilla as an observer, a young woman who gradually sees what’s wrong with her life and her screwed-up partner, but who, by the movie’s end, can barely reckon with what’s happened to her over the past 10 years. And if you were in her satin stilettos, could you?”
Priscilla told reporters at the Venice Film Festival press conference it felt “very difficult to sit and watch a film about you and about your life and about your love.”
She added, “I think Sofia did an amazing job, she did her homework. We spoke a couple of times and I really put everything out for her that I could."
Last month, Priscilla told The Hollywood Reporter she was “so nervous” about the film “because it’s my life… The people who are watching, they’re living it with you, and you hope and pray that they get it. They get your feelings, your hurts, your sensitivity.”
Priscilla is in theaters Oct. 27.
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