Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola, based on Elvis And Me by Priscilla Presley with Sandra Harmon | 113 min | ▲▲▲△△ | in Cinemas
It’s telling that when I opened my phone after the screening of this film, a record company I subscribe to online sent me a link to purchase a brand new Elvis compilation on vinyl. With a new Beatles song now available, this isn’t the first time I’ve recently wondered whether the Boomers’ grip on popular culture will ever unclench.
The two best things I can say about this movie is it continues Coppola’s cinematic examination of loneliness, told from the perspective of privileged young people, especially girls, and that it goes some distance to demystify a Boomer icon.
We already knew Elvis Presley’s triumphant and tragic story — it’s been told told over and over, most recently in last year’s abysmal Elvis. Now we know he was a pill-popping, controlling abuser, too. If anything, that makes this movie important even if it’s otherwise just OK.
If there’s any justice it will start a trend of better, more compelling movies by and about women, and if they must be about figures whose stories we’ve seen again and again, at least the perspective will be fresh. The point is, we’ve had plenty of biopics depicting the heroes of my parents’ generation — almost all white men — achieving their goals in letters or song, war or politics. We could use a few movies told from the perspective of the women who bore their kids and “kept the home fires burning” while the dudes were out conquering the world.
Priscilla and Elvis met when he was in the army, stationed in Germany — played by Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi. She was 14 but that didn’t stop him, aged 24, from wooing her, charming her parents, and by the time she was 17 shipping her back to the States to live in Graceland, while he left on the regular to made movies in Hollywood or go on tour with his band. It’s really not much of a life for her as she gets to go to the hairdresser and read the tabloid mags about Elvis’ dalliances with the women he was acting with on his (mostly) terrible movies. She has the mini poodle and a handgun he gave her as gifts to keep her warm.
It’s not all glum. Maybe the film’s funniest repeated joke is Elvis’ entourage — his pals are interchangeable yes men always looking to him for approval. When he wears shades, they wear shades, when he wears shorts, they wear shorts. None has a personality of their own, or barely a line of dialogue.
Coppola and Spaeny do a terrific job crystallizing both Priscilla’s innocence and horniness, but Elvis is way too God-fearing to give her what she wants. What he’s not beyond is telling her what to wear, what to read, or what pills to take, and when.
Sure, he turned out to be one of the world’s greatest entertainers, but otherwise these characters aren’t too bright or interesting — if you didn’t know why they were famous you’d wonder why all the fuss. They both come across as well-dressed and pretty, but what Lector said to Starling is true here: “Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash.”
The film’s all too happy to follow them around in deeply shadowed rooms in a perpetual slow dance, though not to “Love Me Tender” — Elvis’ music’s notable for its absence.