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  • Robert Farago

Priscilla Is A Rapey Snooze-Fest

Priscilla begins with the future Mrs. Presley’s first encounter with The King of Rock and Roll. Well not exactly…

It starts with Elvis’ Army buddy Johnny Lang “recruiting” Priscilla at a diner, luring her to an Elvis house party.

This when Priscilla Beaulieu was 14, a ninth grader, and Elvis Presley was 24, a world famous celebrity.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the stink of statutory rape hangs over the movie’s early scenes; a #metoo movie miasma that offends anyone with a shred of decency.

Priscilla goes there without going there. It documents Elvis’ grooming as if it’s both disgraceful exploitation and genuinely romantic.

To thread that needle, Priscilla takes great pains to portray Elvis as “a perfect gentleman” during his relentless – though cruelly sporadic – pursuit of a homesick teenager.

We see numerous scenes of The King assuring Priscilla’s father that his intentions are “honorable,” and several instances of Elvis rebuffing Priscilla’s sexual advances.

True story? In her best-seller Elvis and Me, Priscilla claims she engaged in “other means of pleasing” Elvis until her marriage, some seven years into their relationship.

None of that changes the fact that Elvis Presley leveraged a unfathomably unequal power dynamic to put a high schooler under his complete control.

I expected Priscilla to chart Mrs. Presley’s transition from an exploited teen to a strong, independent woman. To watch the native-born Texas tire of her famous husband’s philandering, narcissism, abuse, abandonment and drug addiction.

Nope. Priscilla presents all of the above from a great distance, interspersing Elvis’ predation and bullying with home movie-style montages of fun and games at Graceland.

No surprise there. Priscilla Presley was Priscilla’s Executive Producer.

A long time ago, Elvis’ ex-wife learned that trashing her husband earned the enmity of millions of willfully blind Elvis fans. She knew Priscilla would make money if it tugged on Superman’s cape, but not if it ripped it off.

Again, Priscilla doesn’t entirely shy away from Elvis’ manipulative misogyny, or Priscilla chafing at being treated like chattel.

Our first glimpse of Priscilla’s frustration: the singer and his infantile fuck boys (a.k.a., the “Memphis Mafia”) ogling the teen at a dress shop. As The King decides what his teenage subject can and cannot wear, Priscilla finally loses her shit/stands up for herself.

“I’ll take the fucking dress back,” she snaps. Did sweet innocent little Priscilla say the word “fucking?” Here we go!

Nope. The storm passes as quickly as it arrives.

Other examples of Elvis the abuser get equally short shrift: hooking teenage Priscilla on drugs, trying to take her head off with a pillow, throwing a chair at her.

The intermittent hit parade ends with attempted rape. The one-minute scene encapsulates the movie’s fatal lack of courage.

In real life, Priscilla says she was raped by her husband. An assault that occurred after Elvis discovered she was having an affair with his karate instructor.

We watch Priscilla learning karate with her lover, but the myth-protecting movie can’t bring itself to reveal the affair – even though it was Priscilla’s most important and final act of rebellion against her tyrannical, adulterous husband.

Priscilla ends with a whimper: Mrs. Presley leaves Graceland (without her child) to Dolly Parton’s rendition of I Will Always Love You. I don’t know who was more relieved, Priscilla or me.

Speaking of the soundtrack, Elvis’ songs are conspicuous by their absence. Revealing the hypocrisy of Elvis’ hit Suspicious Minds would have been a real game changer.

Priscilla could have been an important psychological study, a warning to impressionable young women and a delight for those unfamiliar with The King’s vocal genius and culture-shifting charisma.

Instead, it’s a half-baked boring biopic that doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. Assuming it had any in the first place.

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