I think I’ve just seen the first minimalist biopic ever made. Most movies about famous people’s lives come from the opposite direction, embellishing their feats, triumphs and failures. This one simply observes, almost without comment, the—uh—unusual relationship between Priscilla and Elvis Presley, from the time she was 14 years old to the day she walked out on the singing star.
Writer-director Sofia Coppola has done her most crucial job well, casting Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi as Elvis. Elordi adopts a good-enough impression of Elvis to enable us to accept him in the role, and relative newcomer Spaeny is credible as the subdued schoolgirl who tickles his fancy (for reasons we never really understand), to the point that he wins her parents’ approval to have her move into his Graceland home in Memphis, Tennessee. Everything that happens to her from that moment on is strictly on Elvis’s terms, from postponing intercourse until the “right time” to turning down a job offer to relieve her from the monotony of living alone in his mansion while he’s off making movies or going on concert tours.
What do we learn that hasn’t already been divulged and gossiped about in books, documentaries and dramatic depictions? The answer is “not much.” What, then, is the point of the picture, which Priscilla Presley endorsed by serving as one of its executive producers? I honestly don’t know. Like a 1998 TV movie, it is based on Priscilla’s tell-all book Elvis and Me and apparently tells the truth, from her point of view and memory.
Coppola integrates some clever visual ideas into the narrative and dramatizes the couple’s honeymoon by showing a series of meals being left outside their bedroom door. But this minor flourish isn’t enough to make up for a film that feels inert—like Priscilla’s existence. Perhaps this truly was the way Priscilla’s life unfurled; if that’s the case, it’s inferior fodder for a motion picture, especially after all the Elvis-centric works that have preceded it.