The Holdovers – 93%

Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 380 / 5,351

It has been nearly 20 years since Sideways (2004) graced our screens, but director Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti have finally reunited for The Holdovers. The film takes us back to the early 70s and places us at a boarding school in New England as it closes over Christmas break. Our film focuses on those left behind, either because they don’t have family or their loved ones don’t have room for them this holiday season.

Payne focuses on the lives of ancient history faculty member Paul Hunham (Giamatti), unruly but talented student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), and melancholy cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). Hunham is a sarcastic, demanding, and uncompromising teacher who has nothing else in life other than his dedication to classical studies. Angus is an angry young man, arrogant, who has lost his father and whose mother has moved on to begin a new life with a new husband. Mary’s son has died in Vietnam and she begins to isolate herself in the empty confines of the academy’s halls.

Payne hasn’t given us this set of unfortunates to mourn over. With an equal dose of humor and empathy, we gradually get to unwind the trio’s lives. They haven’t arrived where they are without good reason. Each cling to what they know to pull them through each day. Removed from the world at large, they gradually lower their guards and find each other’s humanity.

On the surface The Holdovers trades in sarcasm and cynicism for humor and a committed, early-70s mid-budget film aesthetic, but at its heart it embraces its well-earned sentimentality. We care for each of our protagonists and hope for their mutual healings. Payne’s film doesn’t steal heartwarming moments from us, but he also refuses to give us easy answers. The Holdovers is a humorous, warm, and humane addition to the winter holiday film landscape. I look forward to including Paul, Angus, and Mary in my December viewing traditions.

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