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Set in 1970s New England, an unpopular teacher at a Barton Academy is assigned to oversee the students who can’t go home for the holidays, which includes coexisting with a rebellious teen named Angus and the school’s head chef, Mary, a mom grieving the recent loss of her son in Vietnam.
Paul Giamatti (Billions, Sideways) lead with Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Rustin) as the chef. Directed by Oscar winner Alexander Payne (Downsizing, Sideways).
On the surface, it feels like an amalgamation of Good Will Hunting, The Grinch, and Dutch, but The Holdovers has a soul all its own, delivering a just-in-time holiday movie that blends humor with a narrative that reaches deep.
Paul Giamatti’s brings to vivid life a grumpy drunk named Paul who is passionate about teaching and history but often becomes a pain in the side of his students. You can’t help but feel for him as he navigates through a series of unfortunate events that have led him to a dark mental space. There are moments of warmth and kindness, but his failures and resentments have calloused him. It’s no surprise that Giamatti is generating Oscar buzz for his role; he is simply outstanding.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph delivers scene-stealing performances as Mary Lamb, the school’s chef and a grieving mother who lost her son, a Barton graduate, to the war. She captures the heartache of a loss many parents endured while still showing thoughtfulness towards the other two, and we see Paul’s softer side pull through around her, a kind of conscience that breaks him out of his stubborn cell.
Tully (Dominic Sessa) is a brilliant but troubled teenager left behind to be supervised by Paul. At first, he finds the teacher insufferable, but as layers of their personalities are peeled back, they discover common ground over past traumas.
Credit must be given to the set and costume design teams for transporting us back to the 1970s, shaded with Payne’s choice to shoot the film in a throwback style, complete with the vintage blue MPAA-rating screen, truly capturing the essence of the era. And the era is important, as it’s contributed to each character’s deep-seated issues.
Ultimately, the film feels like a holiday classic, one that we’re just discovering can help us navigate our own fraught holidays against the backdrop of societal tensions.
A cross-generation watch that brings a breath of fresh air to the holiday movie season, The Holdovers will tug at your heartstrings as it wrestles with deeper themes — ultimately nurturing your hope.
..some tissues. You may find yourself shedding some tears – both sadness and laughter. Fans of A Christmas Carol and The Grinch may find a comforting sense of familiarity.
In an Alamo Drafthouse interview, director Alexander Payne shared his top favorite films, which include Make Way For Tomorrow (1937), Westward the Women (1953), Hal (1973), The Last Detail (1973), A Special Day (1977), and Paper Moon (1973). Among these, Paper Moon had the most significant influence on the making of The Holdovers.