Tag Archives: Sofia Coppola

All You Ever Wanted


by George Wolf

Even if you’ve never taken the tour at Graceland, the bare feet on shag carpeting that Sofia Coppola uses to open Priscilla should serve as a proper metaphor for the biography to come.

Welcome to a world you could never imagine being a part of. Tread lightly.

Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) was just a ninth grader when she met Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) on the West German Air Force base where her stepfather was stationed. They eventually married in 1967, had daughter Lisa Marie, and divorced in 1973.

Like most stories about Elvis, this one is pretty familiar. But this point of view is not. That’s likely what interested Coppola, and she adapts Priscilla’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” as a lush, compelling, and often heartbreaking portrait of the woman at the heart of a uniquely American love story.

As Priscilla enters Elvis’s world, she’s a stranger in a strange land, wide eyed and wondering what this older man wants from her. It’s a theme that calls to mind Coppola’s Lost in Translation, but this young girl is much more at the mercy of Elvis than Scarlett Johansson ever was to Bill Murray.

And Spaeny (On the Basis of Sex, Bad Times at the El Royale) gives a breakout performance that is utterly transfixing. With grace and ease, she is able to take Priscilla from the shy schoolgirl hiding a big secret behind her knowing smile, to a woman no longer willing to sacrifice her life to the whims of an icon.

Just last year, Baz Luhrmann used Colonel Tom Parker as a fresh window into the legend of the King. But as entertaining as it was, Luhrmann’s film suffered from its one-note treatment of Elvis, the man. For Coppola, this is an area of strength.

Here, he’s a gaslighting, manipulative ass with a God complex, Mommy issues and weird ideas about sex. And Elordi (Euphoria) embodies it all through a strong performance that captures the charisma and complexities without leaning toward comic impersonation (and with Elvis, that is not easy).

Coppola’s pace and construction are reliably assured and more easily identifiable than anything she’s done since The Beguiled. The production design and time stamp are both detailed and gorgeous, wrapped in a dreamlike haze that slowly fades when reality starts chipping away at Priscilla’s youthful naivete.

And if you’re expecting a hit parade of Elvis classics, you’ve forgotten whose story this is. Coppola’s soundtrack choices are on point, right down to the way she incorporates the few moments of recognizable Elvis hits that we do hear. We only see that side of Priscilla’s husband the way she saw it: as a mythical creature she couldn’t pry loose from the man that always promised he’d make more time for her.

Father/Daughter Dance

On the Rocks

by Hope Madden

At its surface, On the Rocks offers a wryly fun adventure film. It’s a flashy, superficial good time with Bill Murray, and who does not want that?! It’s a father/daughter romp and a heist film of sorts, full of high-end cocktails, cool cars, and hijinks.

But that’s not really the film at all. Writer/director Sofia Coppola’s latest is a candy-coated rumination on legacies left by loving but problematic fathers.

Rashida Jones is Laura, a writer devoting most of her attention and time to her two little girls, with little left for creativity or chemistry. Her husband (Marlon Wayans) is putting in extra hours at work, traveling a lot, and spending a lot of time with his leggy colleague Fiona (Jessica Henwick).

Maybe he’s just busy and maybe Laura’s just in a rut.

Dad doesn’t think so.

Laura’s unrepentant playboy dad Felix (Murray) orchestrates a sleuthing adventure, tailing hubby’s taxis and offering sage advice from a man who knows a little something about infidelity.

Murray is all charm, his charisma at fever pitch. There’s also a lonesome, tender quality to the performance that gives it real depth, and enough self-absorption to grant it some authenticity.

Jones, as his reluctant accomplice, suggests the reality of midlife doldrums with grace. She also transmits the tragic enthusiasm of a daughter still pleased to be the focus of her father’s attention.

It’s almost impossible to avoid comparing Coppola’s latest dramedy with her Oscar-winning 2003 Murray vehicle, Lost in Translation. There are certainly similar themes: a woman unsure about her marriage finds herself drawn into a paternal relationship (with Bill Murray). On the Rocks is too tidy and too slick to entirely stand up to that comparison, but like Lost in Translation, there’s an autobiographical quality to the film that gives it a soul.

Wolf in the Hen House

The Beguiled

by Hope Madden

In a mist-laden Virginia woods, pre-adolescent Amy (Oona Laurence) mushroom picks her way to uncovering a wounded Union soldier. Sure he’s a bluebelly, but she can’t leave him there to die, can she?

Amy helps him back to Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, the isolated boarding school where she, Miss Farnsworth, one teacher and just a handful of pupils are waiting out the Civil War.

The Beguiled marks a return to critical favor for writer/director Sofia Coppola, who won best directing honor at this year’s Cannes Fest Festival for her adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel.

Few frame delicate, ornate beauty quite like Coppola. She has found quite a palette with this film – the draping trees, columned porches, foggy woods, the tender grace of the school’s inhabitants.

The film is a study in restraint, and probably the most conventional film Coppola’s made. She abandons the sexual hysteria of Don Siegel’s pulpy 1971 adaptation, creating instead a chamber piece lush with decay and longing.

From his first words at the school – “Corporal John McBurney, 66th New York, grateful to be your prisoner,” – Colin Farrell’s wounded deserter is a likeable mystery. Is he earnest or manipulative? A good guy, or a wolf in the hen house?

Clint Eastwood’s performance (easily the best thing about Siegel’s version) was immediately creepy and scheming. Farrell’s slightly more of a blunt instrument. He’s less conniving, more primal –vulnerable and explosive, sometimes in the same breath.

He’s met his match, though, in Martha Farnsworth – Nicole Kidman. Coppola’s script is crisp, and no one delivers a passive aggressive barb quite as skillfully as Kidman.

Like her girls, Martha carries a lived-in weariness that weakens her to this attractive distraction from the war. But she is a survivor, an instinct she hopes to bring out in her charges as well.

The cast is uniformly wonderful – Kirstin Dunst, in particular. Coppola is fascinated by the internal power struggle as well as the morphing moral and emotional factors at work here. As patriotism battles Christian compulsions in the beginning, so competition for the Corporal’s attention evolves into fear.

The film makes a sharp turn with the inevitable explosion of impotent male dominance. As sudden as it seems, Coppola’s languid approach earlier in the film ensures that each character’s inner motivations and interpretations are clear – without the hackneyed flashback or interior monologue Siegel resorted to.

The result is a bewitching film – beautifully acted, gloriously filmed and haunting.


For Your Queue: Two Looks at the Next Streep

Writer/director Sally Potter’s poignant semi-autobiography Ginger & Rosa comes out on DVD today. Elle Fanning flawlessly leads a wonderful cast through the crises of adolescence, terrible parenting, and Cuban missiles. Her exceptional talent appears almost effortless, and her vulnerability in this role is heartbreaking. If we’re taking bets on the next Meryl Streep, the smartest money may just be on Fanning.

For more proof, have a look at Somewhere, writer/director Sofia Coppola’s tale of a spoiled movie star (Stephen Dorff) getting a surprise visit from his estranged daughter (Fanning). It is a sparse film, as Coppola returns to the detached style she showcased so beautifully with Lost in Translation. Though you may wonder where it’s headed, stick with it.  Coppola has crafted a beautiful mediation on the value of being needed, and it might one day be remembered as the watershed film of a legendary actress.


Putting You There Where Things are Hollow


By George Wolf




My son has lived in L. A. for almost a year. It took him all of two weeks as a Southern California resident to report, “Everyone here is so phony.”

Imagine growing up in that environment, and you might start to understand the treatment that The Bling Ring gives to some clueless teenage criminals.

In the late 2000s, a group of five Cali teenagers began burglarizing the homes of celebrities they admired, including their favorite “fashion icons” such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. All told, the gang swiped about three million in cash and property before the popo caught up with them.

Writer/director Sofia Coppola, who of course did grow up in this environment, establishes the setting with the ease you would expect. It is a Petri dish of vapidity, so lacking in substance that one teen seems genuinely proud of the depth of thought displayed in his stated ambition to “have my own lifestyle.”

The line that Coppola walks so effectively is one that allows her to keep both sympathy and judgement at arm’s length. The mistake would be to equate the frivolity of the story with a lack of substance in the film itself. Yes its light, but there’s ironic fun to be had, and a pair of fine performances to appreciate.

As Rebecca, the group’s ringleader, Katie Chang perfectly embodies the blinding self-absorption of a young lady who simply cannot imagine anything wrong with always getting what she wants at any given moment.

And Emma Watson, taking a major step toward shedding her image as Hermione from Harry Potter, is fantastic as Nikki, who personifies her fame-obsessed culture by viewing a very public arrest as a springboard to running a major charity organization…”or perhaps a country.”

Though it marks a stylistic shift for Coppola, you can see how this crime story spoke to her. In films such as Lost in Translation and Somewhere, she examined fame introspectively. The kids in The Bling Ring got no time for that, but Coppola makes them oddly fascinating.