REVIEW: “The Holdovers” is a warm, crowd-pleasing drama perfect for the holiday season.

It had its world premiere at the 50th Telluride Film Festival back in August

Courtesy of Focus Features
Courtesy of Focus Features

“The Holdovers” is the newest narrative feature from director Alexander Payne. It follows a school instructor, played by Paul Giamatti, forced to look over a group of students during Christmas break. As the film progresses, he forms an unlikely friendship with one of the students, played by Dominic Sessa, and a cafeteria worker, played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph. It had its world premiere at the 50th Telluride Film Festival. 

Payne is no stranger to slice-of-life, friendship dramas like “The Holdovers.” With features like “Sideways” and “Nebraska,” he has proven that he can craft genuine stories of human connection, and “The Holdovers” is yet another film that fits this theme. 

The biggest highlight of this film is the acting. Paul Giamatti proves he is one of the most overlooked actors of this generation with his effortless charm. The relationships he builds with his students and peers are relatable and endearing, and that is because of Giamatti’s performance. Although he has unlikable aspects such as his ego and smart-aleck nature, these traits strengthen his relationships with the other characters. 

Although Giamatti is amazing in the lead role, Sessa and Randolph are the true beating hearts of the film. The main protagonists are all troubled, flawed characters, but Sessa and Randolph bring so much raw emotion that it is impossible not to fall in love with their characters. Their backstories are quite tragic, and the two portray them perfectly. All three actors are worthy of an Oscar nomination. 

Another Oscar-worthy element of “The Holdovers” is the screenplay. The film doesn’t play out in an unpredictable manner, but the dialogue and the themes are extremely universal. Ideas of life and relationships are discussed in a way that is accessible to the viewer while providing entertaining sequences from start to finish. The main protagonists deal with a tragedy that makes them view life differently. As they build a friendship with each other, they learn to appreciate life which contrasts their beliefs from the beginning of the film.

“The Holdovers” is not only a success in the writing, but in the visual and audible department as well. The film takes place in the 70s, but it also looks, and sounds, like a film from this same era. There is a grainy aspect to the cinematography that is reminiscent of films from the 70s. It has an echo-type quality, similar to the sound of an old stereo. These approaches to filmmaking add to the visual experience of the movie, both internally and externally. 

The film takes heavy inspiration from other films like “Dead Poets Society,” and some may fault the film for this. The direction the film’s script takes is similar to “Dead Poets Society,” making it easy to figure out what happens in the story. Although this could be a flaw in some people’s eyes, the dialogue and characters are likable enough that people may forgive the film for being predictable. 

Charming, funny, endearing and emotional, “The Holdovers” has everything needed in a great film. The warm environment built through the cinematography and characterization makes this an extremely pleasant watch. It is a movie that everyone will likely enjoy watching and will become a success with both traditional audiences and film critics. The perfect movie for the holiday season. 

Trevor Stucker (he/him) is a sophomore majoring in Applied Film and Journalism. This is his second year writing for The Campus Citizen.

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