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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024