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HomeUncategorized2 New Movies Take The Oscar Biopic In A New Direction

2 New Movies Take The Oscar Biopic In A New Direction

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla," and Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper as Felicia Montealegre and Leonard Bernstein in "Maestro."
Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” and Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper as Felicia Montealegre and Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro.”
Illustration: Benjamin Currie/HuffPost; Picture: A24, Netflix, Getty

It’s that point of yr: Oscar biopic season. You realize that type of film: the one by which a historic determine (nearly at all times a person, and often a white man) overcomes some obstacles to realize one thing that’s now within the historical past books.

Admittedly, that’s a bit reductive. However many of those biopics comply with such a tried and true components that until they deviate from conventional biopic tropes and make extra particular stylistic and narrative decisions, they have a tendency to bleed collectively each fall.

Among the many many clichés of the Oscar biopic is the position of the supportive however long-suffering spouse of the male protagonist. The “nice man” takes heart stage. In the meantime, his feminine accomplice is sidelined, given barely any dimensions or storylines of her personal — aside from just a few key scenes that appear designed to win the usually underutilized or undersung feminine actor an Oscar.

This fall, two awards season motion pictures rework that trope, shifting the main focus by exploring what it’s wish to be married to a larger-than-life man. What’s it wish to have your world revolve round your world-famous partner?

Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” follows Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) via her courtship with and marriage to Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi), marked by his abusive and controlling habits. And in “Maestro,” which Bradley Cooper directed, co-wrote and stars in as Leonard Bernstein, it’s Carey Mulligan who, for me, offers the movie’s much more fascinating and sophisticated efficiency as Bernstein’s spouse, Felicia Montealegre. Within the course of, every movie complicates the extra well-known husband’s public picture, and to a point, punctures the fantasy of the “nice man.”

From the beginning, “Priscilla” will not be a few fairy-tale marriage. It doesn’t gloss over the uncomfortable 10-year age hole between Priscilla and Elvis or the truth that she’s simply 14 once they meet at a celebration on a U.S. Military base in Germany in 1959. Priscilla’s stepfather is stationed there, and the already-famous Elvis is in the midst of a two-year deployment. Their dates are age-appropriate, and Elvis respects the foundations and bounds set by her mother (performed by “Succession” star Dagmara Dominczyk) and stepdad. However there’s already a sign that Elvis has a selected picture of what Priscilla must be like and that their relationship might be occurring totally on his phrases.

“Promise me you’ll keep the best way you at the moment are,” he says to her when he strikes again residence after finishing his navy service. When Priscilla is 17, together with her dad and mom’ permission, Elvis arranges for her to stay with him at Graceland as she finishes her final yr of highschool. Most of that point, he’s busy filming motion pictures whereas she’s alone — and seeing information stories about his rumored affairs with well-known co-stars.

Cailee Spaeny plays Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla."
Cailee Spaeny performs Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla.”

Primarily based on Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir (and executive-produced by her), the movie is fairly unsparing in displaying Elvis’ abusive habits alongside his rising habit to drugs. As their relationship progresses, he begins to dictate many elements of Priscilla’s life — every part from her look and her garments to when they need to have intercourse. He expects her to be submissive and to be in service to him.

There are some fairly harrowing scenes which are laborious to abdomen. When Priscilla asks Elvis about his affairs, he shrugs them off and gaslights her. When she dares to present her opinion on some songs he’s contemplating, he throws a chair at her. Or when she’s extraordinarily pregnant with their daughter Lisa Marie, he tells her he wants a while aside. The movie depicts all kinds of abhorrent habits that ultimately led her to depart him in 1972.

This story and its lens appear naturally suited to a filmmaker like Coppola, who typically explores the lives of ladies and younger ladies (albeit often privileged ones) who’ve been oversimplified or misunderstood. It’s a thread that runs via a lot of her work, together with “The Virgin Suicides,” “Marie Antoinette” and “The Bling Ring.”

The movie accommodates the entire interval element and the splendid costume and manufacturing design that’s a signature a part of Coppola’s movies. On the identical time, a few of it’s extra muted in “Priscilla” — however in a great way, holding with the movie’s darkness and unsentimentality. “Priscilla” reminds us that there’s far more to the story than Elvis’ reign because the King of Rock ’n Roll. In the midst of it was a younger lady, barely an grownup, looking for some type of company.

Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and Elvis (Jacob Elordi) in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla," which complicates the storybook image of the couple.
Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and Elvis (Jacob Elordi) in Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” which complicates the storybook picture of the couple.

Equally, “Maestro” is clearly making an attempt to be a distinct type of film than we’re used to seeing. Director, co-writer and star Bradley Cooper has billed it as not a conventional biopic, however a portrait of a wedding. It’s a lofty ambition, however it largely works. Like in Cooper’s “A Star Is Born,” there’s a transparent inventive imaginative and prescient working via “Maestro,” a way of reinventing and modernizing a well-recognized story.

It’s not your customary cradle-to-grave biopic or perhaps a complete take a look at Bernstein’s profession. Cooper captures Bernstein’s magnetism and seemingly boundless power via recreations of a few of his most well-known performances. The movie reveals the depth and breadth of Bernstein’s prolific work because the preeminent American conductor and composer of his time, and maybe any time. It makes terrific use of his huge catalog of music, utilizing it to creatively punctuate scenes. For example, his “On the Waterfront” theme thunders over a younger Bernstein as he’s about to conduct his very first New York Philharmonic live performance in 1943.

However pretty early on, it turns into clear that this story can be about Felicia and what it was like for her to be married to somebody who dominated each room he walked into and was the life of each social gathering. Notably, the primary half of the movie, happening within the early years of their relationship and marriage, is shot in black and white. The 2 fortunately host events and do joint TV interviews, portray an image of storybook magic. Later, the extra tense years of their marriage seem in additional naturalistic colour, signaling a shift towards a extra unvarnished reality. By then, they’re residing largely separate lives, aren’t talking a lot, and his affairs with youthful males have grow to be the topic of gossip.

Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) and Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) in an early scene in "Maestro."
Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) and Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) in an early scene in “Maestro.”

“Maestro” permits room for extra sophisticated truths than in an ordinary biopic.We empathize with Leonard for having to cover his queerness and conform to a heteronormative life. We additionally empathize with Felicia, who, as an actor, was completed in her personal proper — however whose life, in some ways, grew to become the supporting act to her famous person husband’s dynamic presence, in addition to his infidelities and secrets and techniques.

All of this reaches a breaking level: a blowout combat one Thanksgiving morning. “There’s a saying: by no means sit underneath a hen that’s filled with shit,” Felicia says to Leonard, whereas Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons float by their window. “For thus a few years, I’ve been residing with this fucking hen. It’s grow to be fairly comedic!” She lobs one blistering criticism of him after one other, culminating in a parting shot that’s each vicious and darkly comedian for causes particular to the scene’s setup.

Nonetheless, “Maestro” generally appears to be at warfare with itself. The film is framed as an exploration of their partnership. Mulligan will get prime billing, and early posters for the film have featured solely a shot of her together with her again turned to the digicam. But when it’s going to take the method of displaying her facet of the wedding, why not take that even additional, particularly given the power of Mulligan’s efficiency? (Although if we’re going to ask questions on whether or not it’s acceptable for Cooper to play Bernstein, it’s additionally price asking questions on Mulligan’s casting, provided that Montealegre was of Costa Rican heritage and grew up in Chile.) The movie may have ceded extra of the story to Felicia and even informed it fully from her perspective. Wouldn’t which were fascinating, too?

Carey Mulligan plays Felicia Montealegre in "Maestro."
Carey Mulligan performs Felicia Montealegre in “Maestro.”
Jason McDonald/Netflix

“Maestro” solely goes midway there. As a lot because the movie tries to complicate Bernstein’s picture, he’s nonetheless the larger-than-life determine, as he was in his marriage. In any case, the film known as “Maestro.” Its last shot additionally feels a bit too neat and pat: a black-and-white flashback of Felicia from early within the film. We’re left with this sentimental reminiscence of her moderately than the place the remainder of the movie dares to go: towards a extra trustworthy examination of a posh marriage.

However we all know why the film known as “Maestro” and why it will possibly solely take this midway method. The unlucky reality is that we probably wouldn’t have both of those big-screen tales about Priscilla Presley and Felicia Montealegre if it weren’t for his or her marriages to their extra well-known husbands.

“Maestro” admirably tries to inform the tales of each Leonard and Felicia, however continues to be primarily about him — and maybe, it needs to be that method. And it’s telling that “Priscilla” is popping out now, solely after Elvis already bought the extra conventional Oscar biopic remedy final yr in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” starring Austin Butler. Nonetheless, “Priscilla” finally ends up feeling like a quick snapshot, a skinny slice of her story, barely scratching the floor. Maybe it’s a mirrored image of how, for hundreds of years, it has been all too frequent for a girl to be a peripheral character in a person’s story.

What different tales haven’t we informed? What tales have to be reexamined or unromanticized? Wherein tales does an individual who has traditionally been a peripheral character in another person’s life need to be the central character in their very own? “Maestro” and “Priscilla” attempt to get us there — however there are such a lot of extra of those sorts of tales left to inform and a lot extra floor left to uncover.

“Priscilla” premieres in theaters Nov. 3. “Maestro” premieres in theaters Nov. 22 and on Netflix Dec. 20.

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