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Elvis is the devil in disguise in ‘Priscilla’

Sofia Coppola’s bland biopic strands Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in one-dimensional roles as Elvis and Priscilla Presley

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley and Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley in Sofia Coppola’s "Priscilla."A24

Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s film “Priscilla,” an adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s 1985 book “Elvis and Me,” is so dull and lifeless that when Elvis (Jacob Elordi) mentioned Colonel Parker, I secretly hoped Tom Hanks would show up to reprise his trainwreck of a performance in last year’s “Elvis.”

I confess to being a sinner, but nothing I’ve done as of late warranted the punishment of having to sit through two movies about Elvis Presley within a year. At least Baz Luhrmann’s 2023 best picture nominee moved quickly and featured an actor who, for better and worse, nailed the late singer’s voice and persona, plus got to sing his songs.


It’s not Elordi’s fault that the owners of Presley’s music wouldn’t give “Priscilla” the rights to use any of Elvis’s hits, but his inability to maintain his vocal impersonation is on him. The actor is also, at 6-foot-5, far taller than the real Elvis. I assume the casting choice is so that he would tower over Cailee Spaeny, who plays Priscilla, creating a distracting and obvious metaphor for how large Elvis loomed over her.

If my hunch is correct, it’s the one visual flourish Coppola gives us. This is her blandest film; you’d expect the director of “Marie Antoinette” (2006) and “The Bling Ring” (2013) to at least keep things visually interesting. “Priscilla” looks like a TV movie from 1973, the year the Presleys divorced.

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s "Priscilla."A24

Spaeny plays Priscilla from her first meeting with Elvis at age 14 to her divorce; she won best actress at Venice for her performance. She does her best, but she has only two modes to play: Either she’s swooning over Elvis like the teenager she is, or she’s recoiling from his abuse. At no time do we understand why she would fall in love with Elvis besides the fact that, well, he’s Elvis.


Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley and Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s "Priscilla."A24

This movie’s lack of dramatic structure does her no favors, either. We never get a sense of where we are in the film’s central relationship. Priscilla’s decision to leave Elvis is so abruptly handled that it robs the film of any power this climactic scene could have had. As I noted in my New York Film Festival coverage, I thought a reel had gone missing.

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s "Priscilla."A24

Elordi fares even worse, though to the film’s credit “Priscilla” does present a far-from-flattering portrayal of Elvis, which at least gives him something to play. This movie’s Elvis is a monster. We see him grooming 14-year-old Priscilla, then gaslighting her all throughout their marriage. He feeds her pills, neglects her sexually, and cheats on her. When she upsets him, he throws chairs at her, among other acts of domestic abuse.

Watching “Priscilla,” I thought of the 1993 biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” which presented a similar dramatic arc between Angela Bassett’s Tina Turner and Laurence Fishburne’s Ike. The difference between the two films is night and day; Ike and Tina were written as fully fleshed-out, complicated characters, and the result was unforgettable.

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s "Priscilla."A24

“Priscilla” gives us little idea of the inner workings of Priscilla Presley. She’s an enigma in what is supposed to be a story of her empowerment. What does she really think? All we get is an unforgivable needle drop that serves as a final commentary on her thoughts.

As Priscilla exits Graceland for the last time, we hear Dolly Parton singing “I Will Always Love You” on the soundtrack. After nearly two hours of superficially acted scenes, all I could ask was, “Why?”




Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Based on the book “Elvis and Me” by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon. Starring Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi. 113 min. At Landmark Kendall Square, suburbs. Rated R (drug use, domestic violence)

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.