Priscilla Review: A film buff’s dream come true

Lana Del Rey’s song “Love” speaks about growing up, getting dressed up and going out on dates, falling head over heels, and “when you’re young and in love.” It’s a relatable sentiment, but sadly, the inexperience of being that age and handling those feelings for the first time often leads to missteps, misjudgments, and decisions that don’t result in happily ever after. The new A24 film Priscilla perfectly encapsulates that young love sentiment and many Lana Del Rey vibes in general. The film by Sofia Coppola and starring Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi walks through the fascinating early life of Priscilla Presley and her courtship to Elvis.

A nostalgic look by Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola artfully directs this nostalgic look at a time when society was generally more respectable and young men were expected to have honorable intentions towards women.

We watch these starry-eyed lovers gaze at each other with pure, unadulterated desires, the yearnings of a youthful romance. Oh, to be young again! As the film transitions into its second act, we get clues that not all is as it seems. Behind the gates of Graceland, things begin turning dark and sinister.

This visually stunning film is equally as fascinating as it gives us a peek behind the celebrity curtain. Both the arthouse crowd and general audiences will likely find themselves wanting to fall in love all over again when they meet Priscilla.

The story of Priscilla

As we voyage into the heart of Memphis, Tennessee, we open with a shot of a woman’s feet. We assume it’s Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) and watch her perfectly manicured as she walks across plush, pink carpeting. The melodic strumming of a guitar and harp softens the mood as Alice Coltrane’s “Goin’ Home” begins to play. The camera swoops in on Priscilla as she applies eyeliner, creating her signature dark side-eye swooshes. We observe more brief shots of nails, artificial eyelashes, hands with pink fingernails, Cadillacs, and chandeliers, glimpses of the life that would come for young Priscilla.

The opening credits montage concludes, and we’re transported back to the year 1959, to a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany where Priscilla’s father is stationed. We see a U.S. Army Eagle Club-style restaurant. As we enter the dimly lit dining area with a few scattered tables and customers, we see fifteen-year-old Priscilla, dark against the light streaming in from the windows behind her.

A fateful meeting

She’s wearing a light pink sweater, sitting on a barstool, and drinking a bottle of Coke with a straw. She turns around as a young officer starts speaking with her. He finally asks, “Do you like Elvis Presley?” to which she responds, “Of course, who doesn’t?” He explains that Elvis is a friend stationed there, and he enjoys seeing people from back home. They’re going to Elvis’ house that weekend, and he invites Priscilla to accompany him and his wife. She looks at him coyly and explains that she must ask permission.

Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla.
Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) meets Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) in Priscilla. Image courtesy of A24.

With some help from the officer, she’s able to overcome her parents’ initial objections to attending the gathering. Finally, as she enters the residence, she’s introduced to the tall and handsome Elvis Presley (
Jacob Elordi). She takes a seat on the sofa. Eventually, Elvis comes over to speak to the pretty young Priscilla, who explains that she’s from Austin, Texas, and in the ninth grade. Elvis gets pulled away momentarily and performs a piano rendition of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” As she watches him perform from across the room, we can step back into the shoes of our teenage selves and the dream of meeting our celebrity crush.

Elvis and Priscilla – from cloud 9 to love in distress

But it’s only when she gets a personal invitation from Elvis to another party that, once there, he eventually invites her to his room. They get a chance to be alone and finally share their first kiss. The first few chords of “Crimson And Clover” by Tommy James & The Shondells queue up in the background and perfectly encapsulate the vibes this film exudes. Any reservations about this movie are set aside, and mentally, we move our chips to the center of the table; we’re all in. The song plays on as she walks down the hallway at school the next day in her pink sweater. A slight smile spreads across her mouth. She looks down in shyness as she thinks to herself that she’s kissed Elvis freaking Presley! And we’re right there on cloud nine with her.

We spend the rest of the first act and part of the second watching them fall in love. But not before too long, with Elvis gone for long periods making movies, the telltale signs of love in distress begin to haunt the lonely hallways of Graceland.

Priscilla is a work of art

Sofia Coppola is an excellent writer and director, although she has made some missteps. She has created some truly impressive pieces of art, including debatable masterpieces, with a couple of exceptions. Priscilla is not one of those exceptions.

Coppola expertly tells this story, which fits snugly in her wheelhouse. The screenplay, though it hits some, if not most, of the typical love story beats, is well crafted and takes us on a journey from the beginning to the end of this relationship, with its glorious highs and agonizing lows along the way.

Outstanding performances by Spaeny and Elordi

The two leads, Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi give outstanding performances. Spaeny is a raw talent with expressive eyes that convey her emotions in every scene. While Elordi may not be nominated for an Oscar like Austin Butler was last year for Elvis, I actually prefer Elordi’s portrayal of Elvis.

The world complements the story and tone

From a strictly visual perspective, the film is a feast of eye candy. The filmmakers have painstakingly crafted the film to be gorgeous, and the gorgeous young actors match Priscilla’s beauty. The soft color palette of browns, pinks, blues, and pastels from the time period perfectly matches the film’s feminine tone throughout its well-paced runtime. Production designer Tamara Deverell should take a bow for flawless craft.

The costumes, designed by Stacey Battat, are a relentless onslaught of patterns and recreations of popular looks worn by Elvis and Priscilla. At one point, Elvis takes Priscilla shopping, and as she tries on different pieces and models them for him, we get a moment to marvel at the exquisite details of the design and craftsmanship. 

Graceland of the film could be Graceland in person

As someone who has seen Graceland in person, I must assume that the filmmakers had the original home’s architectural plans to recreate it with such precision when Priscilla steps through the front door and into the long living rooms that open up to her right and left. The hair and makeup are also beyond stunning from the opening sequence onward, and I will include it and the costume design in my early Oscar nomination predictions.

 It was also quite intellectually compelling that the music choices for the film were not Elvis Presley’s songs, other than a few brief snippets. Instead, we are given killer period songs from the likes of Spectrum, Dolly Parton, and the Ramones. There is just so much to enjoy about Priscilla that I can’t help but think about it when I consider my favorite films of 2023.

Priscilla looks and feels like a dream

From a technical perspective, Priscilla is a cinephile’s paradise. It looks and feels like a dream, one in which you’re happy to be swept up. But the beating heart of this film is its love story and intoxicating youthful exuberance. This is a love story that general audiences will welcome as they visit Graceland and spend some time with Priscilla.

Priscilla is now available to watch in theaters nationwide.

Your thoughts on Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla

What do you think? Are you excited about Priscilla?  Do you have thoughts you want to share? Join the conversation by commenting below or following us on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MoviesWeTexted.

Looking to read about about Marvel? Check out our recent thoughts on the new Marvel Spotlight Banner. Looking for something to watch that isn’t Marvel? Check out Austin Belzer’s review of the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie or Alise Chaffins’ review of M3GHAN.