The Student News Site of Granada High School

The Pomegranate

The Student News Site of Granada High School

The Pomegranate

The Student News Site of Granada High School

The Pomegranate

Grabbing Life by the Horns

“The Holdovers” is a Darkly Funny 70s Throwback and One of the Year’s Best Films

Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully and Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

After much anticipation, The Holdovers is finally in theaters. The film reunites actor-director pair Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne for the first time since Sideways in 2004. The film also stars Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa, with a script written by David Hemingson.

Alexander Payne seemed to have a good thing going with his satirical black comedies. However, after a six-film winning streak from 1996 to 2013, and three back-to-back Academy Award for Best Picture nominations, Alexander Payne seemed to have lost his footing when he released the commercial and critical flop Downsizing in 2017. After a long hiatus, he returns to his roots with a dark period dramedy. 

In a packed last two months of the year in terms of anticipated films, The Holdovers will stand out above the rest as one of the most unique films in recent memory. Beyond the period setting, there is an undeniable quaintness to The Holdovers and a simplicity that makes it feel like a lost bit of 70s cinema. 

The film presents a pretty basic setup, with a Grinchy history teacher at a prep school being forced to babysit a handful of students over Christmas break, and forming an unlikely bond with the campus cook and a troublemaking kid.

Story continues below advertisement

Like It’s A Wonderful Life, The Holdovers is about grappling with the past to better understand the present, and many of the best scenes in the film are the ones that most obviously tie into this. Conversations caused by a provocative work of ancient art and an interaction at a bookstore, an unwritten monograph, and a revealing run-in with an old friend are just a few of the scenes that paint a picture of the past or unlived lives of Paul Giamatti’s character, which contextualize his decisions in the present. 

The film carefully avoids melodrama with its slim and funny script, where every moment serves a purpose. The film often elects to not show those big emotional Oscar Bait moments, giving the film its distinct 70s feel and a crowd-pleasing edge. Mainly, there’s a scene towards the middle of the film where Da’Vine Joy Randolph has an emotional breakdown, of which only the beginning and end are seen. Most filmmakers would choose to show this moment for the sake of cheap “feels” but since it wouldn’t make us understand the character any better, it is not shown.

The script is sharp, and the warm direction feels brilliantly realized, but much of the film rests on the shoulders of its actors, who are more than up for the task. Paul Giamatti plays a curmudgeonly old man with just enough heart and sadness, Dominic Sessa plays the troublemaker with the right amount of instability and self-reflectiveness, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph hits that sweet spot between short and sad. 

The film’s dance between tragedy and comedy is paid off in the end, where the viewer is left with both the melancholic and optimistic, and is allowed to take what they want from the story.

The Holdovers is everything you could want in Alexander Payne’s return to form and more, with that distinct cynicism mixed with an older sense of heart. The Holdovers has what it takes to become an unconventional Christmas classic, and I can’t recommend it enough.

9/10 Pomegranate Seeds

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Pomegranate Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *