Starring: Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Dominic Sessa
Director: Alexander Payne
Even before the studio logos appeared, I was already into what The Holdovers had to offer. For the first half, I was enthralled by director Alexander Payne's 70s aesthetic and the sharp, almost screwball comedy script (written by David Hemingson). Dominic Sessa and Da'Vine Joy Randolph shine too, but Paul Giamatti gives a performance with so many layers that you can't help but love him despite his grouchiness. The much more mature second act, however, is what stuck with me the most. While still funny, it offers a devastating yet sweet portrait of loneliness that will leave audiences satisfied.
What a shame…how is this beautiful film getting so little airtime in theaters across the globe?! The Holdovers is old-school (specifically 1970s) filmmaking at its best, with timeless storytelling. The lead trio of Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph each put up dynamic, award-worthy performances! Director Alexander Payne gives us an authentic, humanistic story that makes it impossible not to connect with its characters. Your heartstrings will be played with, you will definitely laugh, and you will probably leave the theater feeling better than before. This has “cult classic” written all over it.
There’s an absolute joy in watching Paul Giamatti tear new ones into privileged little shits, and with The Holdovers, that was my avenue into a movie I had trouble initially connecting with. But once director Alexander Payne bores into the faults and connections that all humans, no matter how different, ultimately share, he passes the reins to the incredibly capable hands of Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Dominic Sessa to let them illuminate the story. The Holdovers, while slow to get to its best parts, is sweet, charming, and surprisingly hilarious, carried by an impeccable leading trio.
The Holdovers is such a cozy and feel-good film that is destined to become a holiday classic. Paul Giamatti gives his best performance since Sideways, but it’s newcomer Dominic Sessa who gives him a run for his money. I could honestly watch those two bicker back and forth for hours. Every character is written so well, every scene is filled with either great comedic bits or heartwarming/heartbreaking moments, and director Alexander Payne does a fantastic job capturing the essence of a 1970s Massachusetts boarding school. With all that in mind, I think that this may be Payne’s best film yet.
The Holdovers is the cinematic equivalent of a big ol’ hug. It’s warm, inviting, and most importantly, it just makes you happy. The script finds a healthy balance between intellectualism and sincerity, managing to be emotional without ever getting schmaltzy. It didn’t hook me immediately, but the narrative really took off once it honed in on its leads. Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph are both fantastic, but it’s Paul Giamatti who really steals the show here. With a touching script, a charming seventies aesthetic, and some incredible performances, The Holdovers stands as the ultimate feel-good movie of the season.
This film was reviewed by Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.