(L to R) Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully and Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
Opening in theaters in limited release on October 27th before opening wide on November 10th is the eighth feature film from two-time Academy Award winning filmmaker Alexander Payne (‘Sideways,’ ‘The Descendants’) entitled ‘The Holdovers.’
Reuniting with actor Paul Giamatti for the first time since 2004’s ‘Sideways,’ director Alexander Payne delivers his best movie since the acclaimed Wine-themed film. ‘The Holdovers’ is a smart, sensitive and awkwardly funny movie, which is wonderfully acted and directed and is not only set in the 1970s but is also brilliantly structured like a film from that era.
Story and Direction
Director Alexander Payne and actor Dan Aid on the set of their film ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
Set in the early 1970s, screenwriter David Hemingson’s beautiful screenplay first introduces us to Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), a grumpy teacher at the Barton Academy, a New England boarding school for boys, who is equally disliked both by the students and the faculty. Approaching the holidays, and with no real plans of his own, Hunham is forced to stay on campus and supervise the few students who are not going home for Christmas. Eventually he is left with only Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a smart but difficult student who is struggling with the loss of his father and his Mother’s new marriage. Along with Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a cafeteria worker dealing with her own family tragedy, the three lost souls find friendship and love together over the holidays.
Director Alexander Payne has always excelled at finding humor in the most tragic and awkward of circumstances. That is clearly on display in some of his best movies including ‘Election,’ ‘About Schmidt,’ ‘Sideways,’ ‘The Descendants,’ and ‘Nebraska.’ With ‘The Holdovers,’ Payne not only finds the humor but also goes deep into the human emotions of the characters in a way that he has only been able to scratch the surface with in his earlier films. This is a master filmmaker just hitting the apex of his talents after almost 30 years of the craft. Every shot meticulously framed, every edit perfectly placed, and every scene masterfully directed, as only someone with Payne’s experience could achieve.
Payne’s choice of shots and his framing with cinematographer Eigil Bryld (‘No Hard Feelings’) helps add to the 1970’s feel of the movie. There are also some beautifully framed shots of when the characters take a trip to Boston. That city has changed tremendously since the 1970s, (I know, I grew up there), and Payne and Bryld are able to capture it in a way that it really looks like the city of my childhood. Many of the movie’s best moments play out in long masters, that never feel rushed and really take their time much like the films of the 1970s. Crafting a movie that is set in the ‘70s to feel like a movie that would have been made in that era was a neat trick, and helps the audience immerse itself in the story. The music, editing and production design also helped tremendously in this endeavor, but more on that in a moment.
Related Article: Director Alexander Payne and Editor Kevin Tent Talk ‘The Holdovers’
Paul Giamatti’s Performance
Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
While ‘Sideways’ made Paul Giamatti a household name, the actor has carved out a brilliant career for himself since appearing in other modern classics like ‘Cinderella Man,’ ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Love & Mercy’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ but ‘The Holdovers’ might just be the best performance of his career. Giamatti is perfectly cast as Hunham, as the actor is excellent at playing a curmudgeon, but also has a likable venerability. While he is very funny in the most awkward moments, it’s his more sensitive and emotional scenes that really open up the honest pain of the character. Giamatti has a fun dynamic with Da’Vine Joy Randolph, but his chemistry with newcomer Dominic Sessa is really at the heart of the movie.
Other Strong Performances
(L to R) Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb in director Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
Previously mentioned newcomer Dominic Sessa gives a sensational debut performance playing smartass teenager Angus Tully. It would be easy for a character like this to come off bratty and unlikable very quickly, but Sessa’s performance never crosses that line, as his emotional pain his apparent from the first time we meet him. It’s obvious from the performance that he is a smart and sweet kid that feels abandoned by his mother and is just looking to be seen. The reluctant friendship that forms between Paul and Angus through the course the film feels truly earned, thanks to Sessa and Giamatti’s strong performances.
Actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph, best known for her breakout performance in ‘Dolemite Is My Name,’ is as much a revelation in this movie as she was in that one. Randolph’s emotional range is absolutely captivating on screen and the actress has some great moments to explore that in this movie. Her character very much becomes a mother to both Angus and Paul, at a very difficult time in her life personally, where she needs that. But she also has a deep respect and affection for Paul, which at a point you wonder if it might not be something more. But Randolph is wonderful in her scenes with both actors and is a fantastic addition to the cast.
Editing, Production Design and Music
(L to R) Director Alexander Payne and actors Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph on the set of their film ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
The film’s production design is exquisite, and instantly transports you to a New England boarding school in the 1970s. Barton Academy comes alive in the most palpable ways when it is bubbling with students, but then feels cold and alone when the school is empty over the holidays. The brilliant costumes also help set the 1970’s vibes, as does the smart musical choices, including the film’s score.
But it is really the impressive pacing and editing of the movie that gives it the authentic ‘70s look and feel. Editor Kevin Tent has cut every feature film Alexander Payne has ever directed, but I think this is truly his best work. From the opening credits that look like they belong at the beginning of a movie from the ‘70s, to the pacing and cutting between shots, Tent is invaluable to Payne in truly achieving the look and feel he was going for.
(L to R) Actor Da’Vine Joy Randolph and director Alexander Payne on the set of their film ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
It’s always difficult predicting the Oscar race this early in the season, especially in a year like 2023, but with the movie’s impressive pedigree, I’d be shocked if at least the film, screenplay, director and lead actor were not on most shortlists of awards contenders. Both Payne and Giamatti deliver some of their best work in years and deserve recognition. Giamatti has never been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars, and Payne has only won Best Adapted Screenplay (albeit twice), so it would be nice to see them recognized in the Best Actor and Best Director categories, respectively, at least with nominations this year.
While Dominic Sessa is excellent in his debut, I’m always reluctant to nominate first time actors, but Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who was criminally overlooked for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ definitely deserves attention this time around. And in addition to nominations in Cinematography, Production Design, and Score, I would also like to push a nomination for Editing, which often goes to action-driven movies like the last two winners ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ and ‘Dune,’ but it’s some of the best work I’ve seen in this category in years.
‘The Holdovers’ is a masterfully directed movie with humorous and emotional performances from the entire cast including Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Director Alexander Payne is at the top of his game, as is his entire production team, delivering a heartwarming movie framed with the loving nostalgia of a time (and almost a type of filmmaking) that no longer exists.
‘The Holdovers’ receives 10 out of 10 stars.
“Discomfort and joy.”
2 hr 13 minNov 10th, 2023
Showtimes & Tickets
From acclaimed director Alexander Payne, THE HOLDOVERS follows a curmudgeonly instructor (Paul Giamatti) at a New England prep school who is forced to remain on… Read the Plot
What is the plot of ‘The Holdovers’?
Set in the early 1970s, the film follows Paul Hunham (Giamatti), a disliked teacher at Barton Academy, who’s responsible for supervising students who are unable to return home for the Christmas holidays. During this process, Hunham is forced to deal with one particularly rebellious but troubled student, Angus (Sessa), who is grieving the loss of his father.
Who is in the cast of ‘The Holdovers’?
(L to R) Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham and Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully in director Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.
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