Where to Watch: Theaters
Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa
All media courtesy of Focus Features
It’s a cold, winter day in December and your family has exhausted all the go-to holiday favorites. While looking through the Christmas bins with all the classics, you see a VHS with no case and no label. It has a faded strip of paper tape on the side that says “The Holdovers”. Little do you know that you’ve just discovered a new “old” piece of cinema that warms the soul, with a story so classic yet elegant and engaging, that you wonder how you never knew it existed until now. This is how I felt leaving my theater from watching The Holdovers. Like I had discovered a hidden classic from decades ago.
Roaming the halls of Barton Academy is Paul Hunham, a universally disliked history teacher tasked with caring for the students left behind during the holiday break. The students, all belonging to wealthy parents and exuding privilege from every orifice, are the bane of Mr. Hunham’s existence. One student in particular, Angus Tully, has a knack for knowing how to set off Mr. Hunham. After becoming the only two left in the building, aside from the cafeteria lady Mary Lamb, both have to learn to live with each other and make the most of the holidays.
I don’t want to reveal too much about these characters, other than to say how real and emotionally gripping each of them is. The story is so well written, the dialogue biting and hilarious, and the heart and soul of this film shine from incredible direction by Alexander Payne. There will be lines I will commit to memory just to use at the perfect time come Thanksgiving dinner. The jokes are smart, and the character dynamics of each of our co-leads is nothing short of expert.
Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph deserve awards consideration for their work here, this may be the best performances of each of their careers respectively. Newcomer Dominic Sessa literally plucked out of high school into his first acting role had a steep climb to feel believable and match Paul Giamatti and he absolutely crushed it.
The emotional pull of connection and empathy is embedded in this story’s DNA. I love how the story keeps you engaged and in love with these characters, while at the same time keeping them human and flawed. The film’s cinematography is shown in 4:3, and the style is shot as if it were not only set in the time period but also filmed then (hence my term “Old/New”). If there is any film you need to see for the holidays, it’s The Holdovers. I loved every minute of it, and this is a definitive See It from me.