"The Holdovers" is a heartfelt and humorous film that masterfully depicts the unlikely bond and personal growth among a trio of distinct characters, set against a backdrop of authentic human experiences.

The Holdovers – Review

Alexander Payne, often criticized for seemingly looking down on his characters in notable works like “Election,” “Citizen Ruth,” and “Nebraska,” takes a markedly different approach in his latest offering, “The Holdovers.” This perception, rooted in the exaggerated characteristics of his previous film’s characters, is completely absent here. In “The Holdovers,” Payne’s affection for his characters is palpable, resonating through every scene, dialogue, and narrative choice. In today’s world, where cynicism is rampant, Payne’s latest creation stands out as a beacon of warmth and empathy, likely to resonate deeply with audiences.

Recovering from the less favorable reception of “Downsizing,” Payne reunites with Paul Giamatti, the star of “Sideways,” arguably one of his most acclaimed films. Giamatti shines in his portrayal of Paul Hunham, a harsh professor at the elite Barton Academy during the early 1970s. Payne humorously notes that he’s essentially been crafting ’70s-style comedies throughout his career, making the setting of this film a natural choice. Hunham, largely detested by students and faculty alike, finds a glimmer of kindness in colleague Lydia (played by Carrie Preston), who offers him Christmas cookies despite his gruff demeanor. Known for his strict grading and authoritarian attitude, Hunham exerts his limited power in life through belligerence, isolating himself from others.

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The narrative unfolds over a holiday break, where a handful of students must remain on campus, requiring the supervision of someone like Paul Hunham. Paul, alongside a student named Angus (Dominic Sessa, in a standout performance), and the head cook Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), find themselves at pivotal points in their lives. David Hemingson’s script beautifully captures the transformative power of chance encounters and the unexpected directions they can lead us, even when we think our paths are set. While the story does tread into cliché territory, Payne and his team skillfully ground the film in authenticity, steering clear of predictable plotlines. “The Holdovers” is a celebration of life’s unpredictability and the profound impact of our interactions.

In “The Holdovers,” the character dynamics intricately weave a tapestry of familial bonds that are not defined by blood but by circumstance and need. Mary, portrayed with a poignant subtlety by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, embodies the maternal figure, grappling with the profound grief of losing her son in the Vietnam War. Randolph’s performance captures the heavy toll of grief, portraying a character for whom moving through life feels like navigating quicksand.

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Opposite her, the character of Angus, a 15-year-old with a sharp tongue and an underlying aggression borne from uncertainty, shines brightly. Angus, brilliantly played by Dominic Sessa, embodies the turmoil of a young soul abandoned by his parents during the holidays, standing on the precipice of life-changing decisions, including the haunting possibility of being sent to Vietnam. The evolving relationship between Angus and Hunham, the gruff professor played by Paul Giamatti, is nuanced and deeply moving. Initially adversaries, their relationship subtly shifts as Hunham begins to reflect on his own life through his interactions with Angus, a young man on the cusp of shaping his future.

The brilliance of “The Holdovers” lies not just in its dramatic elements, but also in its humor. Payne expertly harnesses Giamatti’s innate irascibility for comedic effect, particularly in the early scenes, making the eventual crumbling of his character’s emotional walls all the more impactful. While Randolph’s role is more subdued in terms of comedy, she skillfully delivers punchlines when presented. However, it’s Dominic Sessa who truly stands out, delivering a performance that signals the arrival of a future star. He embodies the dual qualities of a leading man and a character actor, reminiscent of the charm and relatability central to ‘70s comedies. Sessa’s performance echoes the era when uniqueness was celebrated, positioning him as a modern embodiment of that ethos.

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“The Holdovers” distinguishes itself within the well-trodden genre of “makeshift family” narratives through its authenticity and resonance. Payne and his team deftly navigate familiar clichés, infusing them with timeless truths about human connection and change. The film celebrates those unexpected friendships or mentorships that irrevocably alter our life’s course, highlighting the impact of younger individuals who jolt us out of complacency. This movie is not just a tale of individuals finding parts of themselves in each other; it’s a reflection of the human experience, where one can see aspects of Paul, Angus, and Mary in themselves and in those around them. “The Holdovers” triumphs as a smart, humorous, and heartfelt film about characters who are as real and relatable as the people in our own lives.

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"The Holdovers" is a heartfelt and humorous film that masterfully depicts the unlikely bond and personal growth among a trio of distinct characters, set against a backdrop of authentic human experiences.The Holdovers - Review