After filmmaker Alexander Payne successfully worked with actor Paul Giamatti in the critically acclaimed Sideways, it was inevitable that this pairing would reunite at some point. Well, that time has finally arrived, and cinephiles are all the better for it. With Payne’s latest movie, The Holdovers, casting Giamatti proves to be a no-brainer, as this film is the perfect showcase of the talented actor’s range of talent. Their latest collaboration is a lovable and poignant celebration of 1970s character-driven cinema and is very moving and entertaining.
The film takes place during the early 1970s at a well-respected, private boarding prep school for boys called the Barton Academy. Giamatti stars as teacher Paul Hunham, an educator and former student of the student, who could be better-liked by his students. Every holiday season, most of the students leave the campus to return to their families; however, there is always a handful of boys who stay behind for various reasons. On this particular year, Mr. Hunham has been tasked with escorting the students who will remain at the school for the duration of the holidays.
One of the remnants is an intelligent but rebellious student named Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a complicated young man whose mother and stepfather have chosen the holiday season to travel on their honeymoon. During their time together, Angus and Hunham challenge each other but also get to bond and know each other well. Given that both are hurting and lonely, the two find common ground with cafeteria head cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and become good friends.
Written by David Hemingson, Payne’s The Holdovers is a return to form for the director. The movie works so well on so many levels, though, at the same time, it doesn’t offer audiences the most original material. What makes the film work so beautifully is the development of its characters, along with its exceptional mixture of comedy and drama. While watching The Holdovers, I experienced a wide variety of emotions. Though I laughed so much, when it effectively pulls on the heartstrings, I certainly felt these moments deeply.
In addition, I marveled at how successfully Alexander Payne and his crew recreated the movie experience from the 70s era. Cinematographer Eigil Bryld shot The Holdovers on film, and the print is colored so that it looks like a beautiful throwback to a much older era in cinema. I wish I could have watched it all on a 35mm print, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Still, watching a DCP version of the movie only partially took me out of the experience.
The film features a fantastic cast of actors, but the MVPs are, of course, Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Each of these actors beautifully portrays the pain and heartbreak that their characters have. And working together shows that they understood the material well and, thus, had a beautiful chemistry.
Alexander Payne is back significantly, and it pleases me wonderfully. Though this movie is not a massive cinematic spectacle, I still highly recommend it for cinephiles to love and enjoy. Movies like this are scarce these days, and people should support them. See The Holdovers in a theater because no one makes movies like this anymore, and this style of cinema will disappear if nobody buys the tickets.