Priscilla

DIGITAL REVIEW:

A24;
Drama;
$19.99 PVOD; $24.99 Premium Sellthrough;
Rated ‘R’ for drug use and some language.
Stars Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Tim Post, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominczyk, Lynne Griffin, Luke Humphrey, Olivia Barrett.

We’re at a point in film history where shoddy Elvis biopics outnumber the negligible star vehicles in which meal ticket Presley reluctantly appeared at the behest of money-spinner Col. Tom Parker. Parker is nowhere to be seen in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla — no one is going to top Tom Hanks’ peerless performance in Baz Luhrmann’s delusional handling so why bother trying? What are the chances of this one being even remotely factual? Surprisingly good! 

We are greeted with a trio of colorfast, distinctively vivid first impressions: the sensualness of walking barefoot across shag carpeting, tapering the corner of one’s eye with a spike of winged mascara, and what the hell is a Ramones cover doing in a Priscilla Presley biopic set at a time when Joey was barely in his teens? Attribute the anachronistic soundtrack to Elvis Presley Enterprise’s refusal to allow director Sofia Coppola the rights to any of the King’s songs. No stranger to using music before its time — Marie Antionette was a big fan of Bow Wow Wow and Siouxsie and the Banshees — Coppola layered her score with cover versions and music by her husband’s band, Phoenix. Lead instrumentals to replace the lyrics viewers have already committed to heart would have worked just as well and without jumbling the time frame.

Add Priscilla Beaulieu’s name to the list of Coppola’s poor little rich girls, advantaged young women with neither the need nor desire to be tethered to the real world. She’s a direct descendant of Marie, the unattended Charlotte in Lost in Translation, the movie star’s daughter in Somewhere, and the entire cast of The Bling Ring. Priscilla had fame thrust upon her the night Terry (Luke Humphrey), one of Elvis’ army buddies (satellite pimps?) spotted the 14-year-old army brat doing her homework in a U.S. military base in West Germany. It’s always been a firm belief that so long as one heir to the Presley throne remains alive, the truth can never be told lest litigation go into extra innings. Much to my surprise and delight, Coppola comes close, so close that there are moments in Priscilla guaranteed to set the Creep-O-Meter into overdrive. Coppola possesses the requisite wisdom and maturity needed to keep the needle peaking in the red and she does so by never once judging her subject.

A mob scene waiting to happen, rather than mingle amongst the people, the King brought the party to him. (Besides, Col. Tom wouldn’t let him leave the compound.) Elvis ain’t nuthin’ but a groomer. The brow begins its long inwardly pucker on the couples’ second “date” when an innocent discussion between the most recognizable entertainer on the planet and a withdrawn ninth-grader transpires in the master bedroom. She buys the pity pitch about his dead momma just enough to consent to a make-out session. Before long he provides pep pills for her to stay awake in class and downers to pass out in Graceland. (In the spirit of Bill Cosby, the placidyl he slipped her was so strong it knocked her out for two days.) He beats her in a pillow fight. Literally. Kings don’t lose. When Elvis realizes that she’s winning, his pillow becomes a weapon to whack her hard across the head. As for inappropriate behavior, according to Ms. Presley, upon whose memoir the film is based, she remained chaste until their wedding night. This way, the subject of statutory rape need not apply. Perhaps most punishing to her psyche was a screening of John Huston’s incoherent in-joke, Beat the Devil. My guess is the reason for the selection had less to do with the picture’s quality and more to do with its royalty free positioning in the public domain.

Don’t these characters have enough money to pay a light bill? Graceland is darker than a David Fincher library at dusk. Seated at their kitchen table, the Beaulieus can barely see their forks in front of their faces. What audiences don’t see is Elvis convincing her parents to allow her to come to Graceland. The one scene always kept from view is an exchange between Capt. Beaulieu and wife Anne concerning their daughter’s future and just what was in it for them.

With his overplayed stutter (“I-I-I love your daughter a-a-and she loves me”), Jacob Elordi’s Elvis at times borders on a Vegas impersonator, while Cailee Spaeny excels at filling in Priscilla’s blank spaces. Alas, the film doesn’t conclude so much as it quickly draws to an end. She longs to be desired by a violent, ill-tempered womanizer, and when it comes time for Priscilla’s breakdown, all the director and she can muster is a little puff instead of a volcano before driving off into an underlit sunset.

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Deep Water

STREAMING REVIEW:

Hulu;
Thriller;
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence.
Stars Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Grace Jenkins, Rachel Blanchard, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi, Lil Rel Howery, Brendan Miller, Finn Wittrock. 

Adrian Lyne’s first directorial effort since 2002’s Unfaithful follows a similar tact as his previous film in adapting the 1957 novel Deep Water.

Aside from some erotic overtones and major changes to the ending, Lyne’s Deep Water is mostly faithful to the primary story points from the book. Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas) are a couple in a small rural town who seem to have an open marriage, in that she has a number of close friendships with other men that all their friends assume are her lovers. The book is a bit more explicit to this point, that they have an arrangement that allows her to step out as long as they avoid a divorce for the sake of their daughter.

However, Melinda’s constant flaunting of her sexuality in front of other men is actually causing Vic to seethe inside, and he scares off one of her would-be love interests by claiming to have murdered her previous one. This gives him a bit of a reputation among town for a dark sense of humor, but intrigues new-to-town screenwriter Don Wilson (Tracy Letts) with a flair for conspiracies.

Vic’s jealousy really boils over when he meets Melinda’s next would-be lover, a local musician named Charlie (Jacob Elordi) giving her piano lessons. When Charlie ends up drowning in a pool at a local party, Melinda immediately accuses Vic of murdering him, which drives Don to investigate further.

Despite her doubts about her husband’s innocence, Melinda is still willing to tempt fate with another boyfriend, Tony (Finn Wittrock), who might just inspire her to run off to Brazil.

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Deep Water is mostly a dry arrangement of passive-aggressive character interactions that occasionally result in some fatalistic intrigue. The film is rather ambiguous at first about just what Vic is capable of before removing any doubt by the final act. The story mostly requires Affleck to look angry at the people around him, an acting technique not far off from his usual range. To compensate for the slowly simmering plot tensions, Lyne turns up the eroticism with a very sensual performance from de Armas, who also, thankfully, is well suited for the task.

The best thing about the movie is little Grace Jenkins as Vic and Melinda’s adorable daughter Trixie, who steals pretty much every scene she’s in. The filmmakers know it, too, which is why the end credits are just an extended outtake of a scene of her riding in a car singing the ’70s hit “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”