Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is a teacher at a prep school located in New England during the 1970s. Paul is a firm, strict, and extremely cranky teacher and is disliked by students and co-workers alike. As school breaks up for another year over Christmas, many students return home to spend time with family and friends over the holiday season. However, some students cannot return home or perhaps don’t have a welcoming home to go to, leaving a select few to remain at school during the holidays with only a teacher and a cook to supervise them.
When the teacher supposed to supervise the students during the holidays makes up a fake excuse to get out of it, the principal is forced to find a replacement. With no other choice, Paul is approached and appointed for the role. Naturally, he is not impressed, and being stuck at school to ‘babysit’ a handful of students leaves him even more frustrated. With no other choice, Paul abides by what’s been asked of him.
Once the final school term ends, a handful of students, including Angus (Dominic Sessa), are left at school. Angus had hoped to be home for Christmas, but his mother makes a last-minute arrangement, which doesn’t include him. The appointed cook to remain is a woman named Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is currently grieving the loss of her son. Now, this small group of frustrated, annoyed, and sad people must band together through Christmas as they remain at school with nowhere else to go.
The Holdovers is a dramatic comedy. The director Alexander Payne is no stranger to these two genres thanks to his past films, which include Sideways, Election, and About Schmidt. A lot of the comedy comes from Paul Giamatti’s character through his quick, hard temper and witty humour with students and fellow teachers. The drama aspect here is strong and enjoyable. The three main characters, who are all going through challenging times in the present day, are all put in the room together, leading to interesting conversations and moments of friction. There is plenty of character development here, and as the story progresses, the audience is taken on a journey that feels cosy, heartfelt, and deeply touching.
From the beginning, the visuals and audio track make it feel like this film was made in the ’70s. It felt like I was watching an old movie on the big screen for the first time, which I adored. These visuals are created through finer details, such as film grain being added to the picture and the film constantly relying on real locations, including the school itself. As the film ended, I was highly impressed by the performance of the three leading actors. They were incredible, and some say this may be the best performance of actor Paul Giamatti’s career, which I would also agree with. The chemistry on-screen and dialogue all feel real and naturally compelling.
Overall, The Holdovers carries a solid balance of comedy and heartwarming drama. It’s an unexpected story of the journey of three characters who are completely different from one another, and we get to watch them attempt to overcome personal challenges from their past and present. Our three leads are flawless, with Paul Giamatti continuing to surprise long-term fans. Visually, I also adored that director Alexander Payne created a film that takes audiences back to the cinematic vibes of the ’70s, even through straightforward effects, such as adding a minor amount of film grain to the final feature. The climax is rewarding, and audiences will be left feeling uplifted and impacted after a fun experience and dramatic journey.
The Holdovers (2023) will be available in Australian Cinemas starting January 11th.