“The Holdovers” – Alexander Payne’s Heartfelt Journey into Unlikely Bonds

Movie Bunker Score:
4/5

The Holdovers

Release: 2023-10-27Genre: ComedyDuration: 133 minsBudget: $ 0
Overview

A curmudgeonly instructor at a New England prep school is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go. Eventually, he forms an unlikely bond with one of them — a damaged, brainy troublemaker — and with the school’s head cook, who has just lost a son in Vietnam.

The Holdovers

Release: 2023-10-27Genre: ComedyDuration: 133 minsBudget: $ 0
Overview

A curmudgeonly instructor at a New England prep school is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go. Eventually, he forms an unlikely bond with one of them — a damaged, brainy troublemaker — and with the school’s head cook, who has just lost a son in Vietnam.

Alexander Payne, often criticized for allegedly looking down on his characters in previous works, takes a different approach in his latest film, “The Holdovers.” In contrast to his earlier films like “Election” and “Citizen Ruth,” this new project showcases a genuine affection for its characters. In an era marked by increasing cynicism, Payne’s portrayal of these individuals is a refreshing departure.

Bouncing back from the setback of “Downsizing,” Payne collaborates once again with Paul Giamatti, the star of arguably his most beloved film, “Sideways.” Giamatti delivers a standout performance as Paul Hunham, a stern professor at the prestigious Barton Academy in the early ’70s. Payne humorously notes that he has essentially been making ’70s comedies throughout his career, so it’s fitting that he sets “The Holdovers” in that era.

Hunham, a disliked figure among students and staff, spends his Christmas break overseeing a handful of students who can’t go home. Through a series of events, the holdovers end up being Paul, a student named Angus (Dominic Sessa in a breakout role), and the head cook Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). Despite being at different stages in their lives, they influence each other in heartwarming and genuine ways. David Hemingson’s script explores the unexpected turns in life that can shift us onto new paths long after we thought we were done adjusting.

If Hunham serves as the reluctant father figure, Mary is the grieving mother who has recently lost her son in the Vietnam War. Randolph delivers an understated and moving performance, portraying the weight of grief and the difficulty of navigating the world after such a loss. Angus, a 15-year-old with razor wit and uncertainty about his future, undergoes significant development alongside the film. Payne infuses humor throughout, particularly in Giamatti’s irascibility, creating a powerful contrast as the characters’ walls begin to crumble.

“The Holdovers” stands out for its consistent humor from start to finish. Payne skillfully leverages Giamatti’s comedic talents, and Sessa emerges as a real standout, displaying the potential of a future star with charm and relatability reminiscent of ’70s comedies.

While Hollywood has a history of stories about makeshift families learning valuable lessons, “The Holdovers” feels exceptionally fresh. Payne and his team acknowledge the clichés inherent in life lessons but infuse them with timeless truths. The film resonates by capturing the essence of unexpected friendships and mentorships that forever alter life’s course. Its success lies not only in the relatability of characters like Paul, Angus, and Mary but in the viewer’s ability to see themselves in all three.

This review is based on the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and “The Holdovers” is set to open on October 27th.

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