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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

The Holdovers: Review

Harkening back to quaint, coming-of-age tales from yesteryear, "The Holdovers" embraces a comfortably familiar aura. We follow a brooding boarding school teacher who, while brilliant, alienates everyone around him due to his rigid demeanor. When assigned to watch over holdover students during the snowy Christmas holiday, he bonds with a bright yet hard-headed student and a lunch lady beset by tragedy amidst the trios' collective personal turmoil.

"The Holdovers" discovers warmth from its subjects lingering struggles. "Sideways" writer/director Alexander Payne has always displayed a knack for slowly peeling back the layers behind characters' seemingly one-note personas. He showcases a similar sensibility here, gradually morphing this misfit trio into a makeshift family bonded by their united alienation from the world. Payne's material often displays a cunning wit and a keen eye for sincere insights. His direction is similarly accomplished, utilizing the rustic, snow-coated covered charm of Western Massachusetts locations (Deerfield and Northfield) as the perfect canvas for his narrative.

What makes "The Holdovers" shine brightest is its standout cast. Equally vulnerable and brash, Paul Giamatti transforms a stock character archetype into a fully realized person as Professor Hunham. Few actors can shift between bitting humor and intense emotions with Giamatti's assured touch. The renowned supporting actor captures the spotlight in every scene and skillfully carries the material on his shoulders throughout. Newcomer Dominic Sessa as foul-mouthed student Angus and Da'Vine Joy Randolph as the mourning lunch lady Mary are equally adept in conveying the warmth and despair buried within their roles.

"The Holdovers" does not break new grounds with its approach, and the film's first act does take time to discover its footing. However, once the film finds its groove, "The Holdovers" provides an affectionate coming-of-age tale well-suited for the holiday season.


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