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Why audiences should approach the new “Priscilla” movie with “Suspicious Minds”

Courtesy of Allison Hussey/Pitchfork
Sofia Coppola’s new movie “Priscilla” is set to release in theaters across America this Friday, starring actors Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi.

Since hitting theaters in the summer of 2022, Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” has revitalized rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley with its unique exploration of his life and legacy. The biopic’s popularity was reflected not only in its stellar box-office performance, but also in the influx in Presley’s popularity, most notably among younger audience members.

The film did garner some negative attention, though, specifically with respect to its portrayal of Presley’s relationship with his ex-wife, Priscilla Presley. The relationship between the two is infamously controversial due to the fact that the two met and presumably started their courtship when Priscilla was just 14 and Elvis 10 years her senior. This fact and the other more concerning aspects of the relationship were excluded from Luhrmann’s film. Rest assured that will not be the case with Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla.”

“Priscilla”—based on Priscilla’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me”—was first announced in September of 2022 with the somewhat controversial Coppola set to direct it. Casting decisions for both Priscilla and Elvis were also announced, with Cailee Spaeny filling the former role and “Euphoria” star Jacob Elordi playing the latter.

Recently released trailers and clips from “Priscilla” all tease a movie that includes everything about the problematic relationship that the “Elvis” biopic didn’t. Reviews and articles have already started rolling in—many of which praise Coppola for her poignant depiction of Priscilla’s adolescence and the whirlwind romance that thrust her into the spotlight.

Significantly fewer sources, however, address the ways in which this film has undeniably fallen short. Fewer still—if any at all—acknowledge that this biopic is not even entirely necessary. I aim to discuss both.

For starters, the cinematography featured in the film’s official trailer and available clips leave much to be desired. Specifically, the trailer is incredibly lackluster. Not only is it far from aesthetically pleasing, but it also includes a number of shots that are rudimentary at best. As a whole, the trailer feels more like the attempt of a film student than that of a group of seasoned professionals.

Officials at Elvis’s estate had similar thoughts on the movie as a whole. “It feels like a college movie,” one official told TMZ. “The set designs are just horrific, it’s not what Graceland looks like.” Indeed, the sets and costumes displayed in various promotional materials were somewhat disappointing after the Oscar nomination-worthy costumes and comparably impressive sets featured in Luhrmann’s “Elvis.”

The somewhat underwhelming nature of the costume and set designs for “Priscilla” could very well reflect Coppola’s specific vision for this film, though it is equally likely that the film’s rushed conception and production also had something to do with it. According to the New York Times, Coppola first read “Elvis and Me” years ago before picking up the book again in 2020 and calling Priscilla later that year to pitch the movie idea. Filming commenced two years later, in October 2022, and wrapped up in December of that same year. This is an incredibly short timeline—I would argue too short to produce an accurate, sensitive depiction of Elvis and Priscilla’s marriage.

This timeline, too, starkly contrasts with that of “Elvis.” Luhrmann’s biopic was reportedly in the works for a decade before filming even began—which took an additional two years. The difference in time dedicated to the respective production of the two films lends itself to the natural conclusion that Luhrmann’s “Elvis” was more thoughtfully created and likely includes a more accurate depiction of Elvis, specifically.

Elvis’s casting in “Priscilla” also contributes to an inaccurate depiction of the singer. With this film, Elordi becomes the latest in a string of actors who have faced the monumental challenge of stepping into the King’s blue suede shoes and portraying him on the big screen. Unfortunately, his take on the role may very well prove to be the least accurate if footage from recent interviews is any indication. When asked how he prepared for the role, he explained that the process largely involved “boring hours and stories of homework.” Elordi’s response is an objectively unenthusiastic one that casts doubt on his excitement for, and commitment to, the important role he’s been given.

Also questionable is Elordi’s initial introduction to Elvis. He revealed during his recent appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” that he only knew about Elvis because of the references to the singer in Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch.” Elordi’s unfamiliarity with Elvis prior to the making of Coppola’s film will undoubtedly negatively affect the degree of accuracy with which he portrays Elvis.

Finally, there is the question as to whether or not this is a necessary biopic. Quite honestly, I don’t think it is. Priscilla’s story is not new nor has it received any shortage of publicity. In fact, “Elvis and Me” had already received a screen adaptation that aired on television in the late ’80s. Why, then, does this story require an additional retelling?

Some may argue that “Priscilla” offers a more modern take on Priscilla’s story. Even so, the movie would still be largely unnecessary given the fact that Priscilla is still alive today and remains exceedingly vocal about her story and relationship with Elvis. Really, then, there is practically no need for yet another rendition of a tale many are already familiar with.

Priscilla’s story is an important one, yes, but it is by no means a new one. Her recount of her marriage and life have been heavily publicized for decades, making Coppola’s “Priscilla” feel superfluous. Another strike against the upcoming film is a noticeable lack of care—and probable lack of accuracy—with which it was created. Audiences are warned to watch this movie with—in the words of Elvis himself—“Suspicious Minds.”

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About the Contributors
Rebecca Warber, Copy Editor
Rebecca Warber (she/her) is a second-year student studying English. As her choice of major suggests, she loves to read and write in her free time. More often than not, you can find her in the Law Library, either writing for The Observer or desperately trying to finish whatever reading assignments are due that day.
Tyler Vu, Graphic Designer
Tyler Vu (he/him) is a second-year majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering. He spends his free time driving around Cleveland to find cool places to eat, going to the gym, losing to the elderly in pickleball or bothering his friends.

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