Film: The Holdovers

Hollywood needs more films like The Holdovers (2024). Director Alexander Payne’s dramedy approaches its quiet, seventies-set narrative with a throwback aesthetic that lands like a reminder of more authentic filmmaking days, when the only virtues required were a strong script and committed actors. The always-great Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham, a literature teacher at a boarding school, whose irksome ways gets him on the wrong side of the headmaster. For failing the student of a powerful donor, Hunham is punished: during the Christmas break, he’s assigned to supervise a handful of boys who have nowhere else to go for the holidays. This includes Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a smart but troubled student whose glorious vacation plans were canceled at the last minute by his mother. The strict Hunham and the rebellious Tully are practically nemeses as the break begins, but as Christmas approaches and circumstances change, their relationship evolves in unexpected ways.

The Holdovers isn’t at all a splashy affair, but there’s an elegant, subdued appeal to its confidently told story. David Hemingson’s clever script is soundly structured, and Payne shoots with a reverance for the filmmaking era in which it is set, giving it a pure, retro cinema vibe. The curmudgeonly Giamatti and the unruly Sessa are great foils, while Da’Vine Joy Randolph delivers a sublime supporting turn, and Carrie Preston turns up in a deeply charming love-interest role. A first-rate, classy production that remembers all that’s great about feature-film storytelling and delivers it effortlessly.

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