Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Holdovers - Review


It would be very easy to oversimplify and emotionally manipulate an audience with the premise of The Holdovers. Thankfully, director Alexander Payne has no interesting in that version. What we get instead is a heartwarming holiday treat that never once feels forced, yet maintains an emotional resonance that most films reach for but never accomplish. With a stellar trio at the center and sharp script backing it, The Holdovers might just be the must-see of the season.

A curmudgeonly instructor (Paul Giamatti) at a New England prep school remains on campus during Christmas break to babysit a handful of students with nowhere to go. He soon forms an unlikely bond with a brainy but damaged troublemaker (Dominic Sessa), and with the school's head cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a woman who just lost her son in the Vietnam War.

After his inexpressive last outing, Alexander Payne returns to the a far more laid back affair for a  big time rebound. Payne’s sensibilities bring a timelessness to the storytelling, a tone that feels at home here but also would have soared in the early 70’s as well. This rings true for Payne’s style as well, in which the look and feel of the time period comes through in the set design and the filmmaking. The inclusion of scratches and burns on the digital print is a fantastic little touch to place it firmly in its era. 

And yet, the key to all of this working lies in the extraordinary cast. Paul Giamatti’s grumpy Paul Hunham is delightfully cantankerous. The sad sack professor role perfectly suits Giamatti, and the back and forth with Dominic Sessa is filled with the prickly wit that Payne does so well. And Sessa is equally as great as, if not better than, Giamatti,  bringing that clever, angsty energy to counteract the grumbly Giamatti.

The two are joined by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as the school cook Mary Lamb. In a lot of films, Randolph’s character would fall inevitably into a one-note character, but that’s not the case here. The actress breathes life into this character and thus the film, and just about steal the whole thing out from under her fellow co-stars. When this film racks up Oscar nominations in a few months, Randolph better be one of the names called.

The script from David Hemingson isn’t sweeping or grand, but its themes are rich, universal and unapologetically authentic, a truly intimate and touching view at the connections we all share, even when it seems unlikely. It stands out by not rushing through what we could all guess is coming, but lets the characters get there naturally, spurning the warm and fuzzy route for a far deeper narrative. 

The Holdovers feels like an uncovered artifact of a bygone film era. As if Payne and crew dug up some forgotten 70s film and released it to the masses. It’s charm and heart are apparent from basically the first frame, and it only goes up from there. Of the great deal of the worthy cinematic ventures as the year draws to a close, make sure that The Holdovers makes it on your must see list. 

No comments :

Post a Comment