DRAMA; 1hr 53min
STARRING: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi
Fast lane: Spaeny and Elordi
The 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu (Spaeny) who calmly takes centre stage at the start of writer-director Sofia Coppola’s revelatory take on her quasi-mythic history, is unusually self-possessed. Transplanted from Texas to West Germany with her stepfather, US Air Force Captain Paul Beaulieu (Ari Cohen), and her ineffectually supportive mother, Ann (Dagmara Domińczyk), the pint-sized knockout resents every tedious minute.
It’s 1959 and 24-year-old US Army draftee Elvis Aaron Presley (Euphoria ’s Elordi, ticking every tall, dark and handsome box), who is also stationed in Germany, is as red-hot as he’s ever been, despite the military stint he fears has clipped his burnin’ wings. The star and the schoolgirl hit it off straightaway at a gathering in his relatively modest digs: EP is a privately confiding southern gent and “Cilla” is as smitten as anyone in her coveted shoes conceivably would be. After he flies home, she frets and pines until they’re reunited in his stately Memphis manse, Graceland, with his father, Vernon (Tim Post), as her official chaperone, ahem.
All this is spelled out by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon in the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, on which Coppola’s episodic screenplay is based. What the book is unable to depict with the disconcerting acuity of a camera is how very young Priscilla was when she first played house with Elvis — a petite child in a lion’s party den. Elordi’s EP is ecstatic to see her, promptly knocking her out for two days with 500mg of sedatives (oopsie!), then whisking her off to Vegas to drink and gamble while refashioning her angelic look with the inky beehive and feline eyes that became her trademark.
Coppola’s neutral gaze spans these and other well-worn bases that are mostly defined by an openly controlling Elvis, who inters his dainty accessory alone at Graceland while he cavorts elsewhere (which he incidentally refuses to fully do with her for seven years, being righteously anti-intercourse before marriage). As genuine as the bond between Priscilla and Elvis otherwise looks to be, her life in his orbit is an airless entrapment. Priscilla is no fool, in this or any other incarnation. The issue here, both specific to her and of its time, is one of female agency. So while Spaeny and Elordi pay their respects to modern history with thought-through portrayals that neither embellish nor seek to judge, the facts they’re evoking can’t help but speak for themselves.