Why THE HOLDOVERS Wows and PRISCILLA underwhelms

Originally I wanted to write solo reviews for both The Holdovers and Priscilla but I am running out of time and the thought occurred to me ‘maybe a comparison of the 2 might be interesting?’ After all, why did one work for me so well and the other was so disappointing? Let’s talk about it!

Now they aren’t an exact comparison because The Holdovers is an original screenplay with fictional characters and Priscilla is based on the memoir of a real person Priscilla Presley. But they are both character pieces and both set in the 70s and both about young adults so they aren’t complete opposites.

The main difference between the two films is in The Holdovers we get to know the characters so well, even minor characters we don’t spend a ton of time with like Mary Lamb played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph. We learn so much about the choices in her life, her family, faith and everything else in only a few key scenes.

Priscilla, on the other hand, always keeps her at an arms-distance. You’d think a film directed by the daughter of a famous person, Sofia Coppola, would have something interesting to say about this famous woman who eventually leaves Elvis but she really doesn’t. The relationship is toxic but we don’t get to hear from Priscilla. What does she like about Elvis? Is it the money? Is it a spiritual connection? What does she want in life? She’s young but all the more reason to see her grow and develop as a character.

The performances are all good in Priscilla but its the screenplay that lets them down. It honestly felt like a made for TV movie without the moxie and camp those films can have. I felt like I learned next to nothing about Priscilla from watching the movie and I came in knowing very little. Isn’t that the whole point of the movie to tell her story? Evidently she’s a young girl who waited around in Graceland but had almost no personality herself. Also I felt they were trying to portray Elvis as asexual or disinterested in sex (he’d rather read philosophy) but they never did anything interesting with that either.

The Holdovers has 2 masterfully written characters with Paul Giamatti as the professor Paul Hunham and Dominic Sessa as a lonely student Angus Tully. They can’t stand each other at first but are forced to share the holidays together and come to understand and respect one another. It’s moving and authentic and wonderfully acted. It is also cool that Paul Giamatti’s character has a strabismus problem with his eye which I have too! I’m not sure how they did that if it was special effects or what but it was neat to see a character grapple with that in a feature film.

Of course I am drawn to holiday films but The Holdovers is really a film about friendship and how we all freaking need each other. I could nitpick about the ending not being perfect but it was good enough and provides a moment of sacrifice for Paul (who has been relatively selfish most of the movie) and some hope for Angus. Nobody has really believed in him in his life and now someone has and it’s beautiful,  moving and lovely.

Basically Priscilla is well-made but it left me with little insight into its characters where The Holdovers had it in spades. One has a weak script and the other is one of the best in years. It’s as simple as that.

Priscilla– Frown Worthy 4 out of 10

The Holdovers– Smile Worthy 9 out of 10

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