Alexander Payne isn't for everyone. For me, he's batting 100%. Okay, maybe not quite. I did not care for 'Downsizing' (2017) at all. But I did enjoy 'Jurassic Park III' much more than 'Jurassic Park II'. Needless to say, he has quite the diverse filmography as both a writer and director. Payne is not afraid to showcase truly hateable and annoying characters in a palatable way. I wanted to smack Téa Leone in the face so badly in 'JP3', but I was also glad when everything worked out for her... despite her incessant screaming! My god, woman, shut up! My point is, 'The Holdovers' is no exception. Entitled, privileged brats and faculty on power trips are bountiful in his latest film, his second collaboration with cinematic stalwart Paul Giamatti after 2004's 'Sideways'.
SWITCH: 'THE HOLDOVERS' TRAILER
It's Christmas time in 1970 at elite New England boarding school Barton Academy. Former Barton man turned history teacher and most hated by students, Paul Hunham (Giamatti) has been roped into chaperoning the "holdovers" - the boys that for whatever reason will be staying on campus during the holidays. Sadly, this year it's just one boy, smart yet adolescent and recalcitrant Angus Tully (newcomer Dominic Sessa), along with the cafeteria head and grieving mother Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). The three of them make an unlikely team as they learn to live together in these emotionally trying times and find common ground, understanding and empathy for one another.
From the first frame I thought I had travelled back in time. The incredible team responsible for 'The Holdovers' has pulled off a remarkable rewind. From the sets, costumes, the music, the cinematography - everything - I was enveloped in a genuine sense that I was present in the winter of 1970. And so, I was hooked. Witty repartee between intelligent characters thanks to a wonderful screenplay from David Hemingson (TV's 'Just Shoot Me') seals the deal as layer by layer the relationship between these outsiders blossoms into unlikely friendship and comradery.
The incredible team responsible for 'The Holdovers' has pulled off a remarkable rewind. I was enveloped in a genuine sense that I was present in the winter of 1970. And so, I was hooked.
Now let's talk about our cast. Three is the magic number. Giamatti is, of course, fabulous. He and Payne having worked together before have their shorthand and are able to pull together perfection. Dominic Sessa is a breath of fresh air. Tall, awkward, yet full of charisma, he is the light of this film. But step aside boys, because from the moment she appears on screen, this becomes Da'Vine Joy Randolph's movie and she clearly didn't know it at the time. He performance is elegant, powerful and divine. She's always been the secondary or tertiary character in a hundred things you seen, but she has finally stepped into the light - now watch her glow and the nominations flow.
At 2 hours and 13 minutes, 'The Holdovers' is around 20 minutes too long, however there are far worse ways to spend 20 minutes and many many more movies that have abused a superfluous 20 minutes, where here it simply feels... too long. Not good, not bad, just a smidgen too long. Do with that information what you will.
Having already been released in the United States, 'The Holdovers' has appeared on many Best of 2023 lists and also boasts an impressive list of award nominations and wins (deservedly so), including three Golden Globe nominations. Mr Payne, you've done it again.