The Holdovers is a long-awaited return to form for Alexander Payne, who manages here to tap into the core of humanity once again in the most unexpected place with the most ridiculous of people. Payne has a knack for showing off all different sides of life in his films, allowing for some truly unique and fresh perspectives in the world of cinema and beyond. The Descendants dealt with grief and reality in such powerful ways, while Nebraska shone a light on small town living and how quiet that life can be sometimes. Both films touch on families and their dynamics in bold, confronting manners as Payne never shies away from keeping things authentic. With The Holdovers, Payne once again shows us how much in common we have with those we feel we couldn’t be furthest from.
The year is 1970 and it’s Winter Break for Barton Academy, seeing students and faculty fade out of the New England snow and back to their homes for a couple of weeks. However, Professor Hunham (Paul Giamatti) will be staying at the academy for break to keep watch over the holdovers, or the children whose parents didn’t want/couldn’t have them back for Christmas break. Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) finds himself among the holdovers and under the protection of his least favorite teacher. What they’ll come to learn about one another and the place that they’re at will change them forever.
Paul Giamatti has never been a secret weapon, as his talent and craziness have always been on full display for audiences to enjoy for years. As this history teaching curmudgeon, Giamatti hurls historical insults at wide-eyed rich kids while spouting Latin phrases at their uneducated ears. It’s hilarious, but also touches on a large portion of what the story revolves around, wealth. Most of the boys in the academy are sent there by wealthy parents who pay their child’s way to Ivy League schools, all while keeping them out of sight at a boarding school. With much being handed to these rich boys, their lack of educational effort shows in the classroom and Professor Hunham will be damned if he’s going to let these kids skate by while others work hard for their education.
The Holdovers biggest surprise came in the form of Angus Tully, a character who felt relatable in that he has the smarts to make it far, but perhaps lacks some of the motivation to get there. The more we see Sessa peel back the layers of Angus, the more we understand his trepidation and some of the frustration we know he feels in his life. What I thought was going to be some quirky Breakfast Club type film turned out to be a great study on the burdens we place and keep upon ourselves and the lives we lead at home that no one could ever understand (or so we believe). I was so genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this film and everything it had to say, and I was especially touched by Da’Vine Joy Randloph’s performance in this film and everything she brought to her role.
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