The bride of Elvis, by the book

At first glance, the combination of Priscilla Presley and Sofia Coppola looks like pop-culture catnip: Priscilla, who met pop idol Elvis Presley when she was just 14 and took up residence at Graceland a few years later, being portrayed by a filmmaker known for drenching viewers in gauzy, retro-tastic mood movies? Bring it on.

But after that enticing opening sequence, “Priscilla” reverts to dreary biopic form, in which the high and low points of Priscilla’s life with the King are recounted with rote, episodic familiarity. The narrative begins in 1959, when Priscilla, portrayed by Cailee Spaeny, is a junior high school student living with her parents on a U.S. Air Force base in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The broad outline of what happens next is pretty well-known to anyone who read “Elvis and Me,” the book “Priscilla” is taken from. After Elvis leaves Germany, Priscilla isn’t sure she’ll hear from him again, but he winds up inviting her to Memphis, to the alarm but eventual grudging consent of her parents. When she moves in permanently, she completes her education at a local Catholic high school, while Elvis, 10 years her senior, waits patiently back at the mansion.

As strange as Priscilla’s life is, Coppola doesn’t judge, simply observing her beautiful, impassive protagonist as she drifts from one situation to the next. But the scenarios never acquire the momentum needed to make “Priscilla” more than a pretty face.

Even if it all went down that way, “Priscilla” plays it safe, leaving viewers feeling bemused, and a little bored. By the time Priscilla breaks free of Elvis’s control — not to mention his mounting drug abuse and cheating — Coppola wants us to cheer a woman finally coming into her own. But we still don’t know entirely who that woman is, or what inner drive has animated her to this point. Priscilla remains little more than a screen for other people’s projections — Elvis’s, Coppola’s, our own.

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