The Holdovers Movie Review: New Alexander Payne Film is a Modern Holiday Classic

The Holdovers is Directed by Alexander Payne and Stars Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Review: The Holdovers is a gem that sits among the best of 2023. The movie’s engaging narrative, stellar performances, and melancholic tone makes it a standout addition to the holiday film canon. Three central performances by Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph pull the film together.

The Holdovers review Alexander Payne movie
The Holdovers

In the snowy landscape of December 1970, director Alexander Payne unwraps a gift to film lovers – a heartwarming yet melancholic holiday tale titled The Holdovers. Set against the backdrop of a New England boarding school, this comedy-drama takes us on a journey through the lives of three central characters, powerfully portrayed by Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

The Holdovers is a nostalgic embrace of the 1970s, where film grain and old-school studio logos set the tone for a story that unfolds like a classic Christmas Eve. Payne, known for his knack for human stories, encapsulates the essence of the season – warmth, reflection, and the shared experience of joy and pain.

The Holdovers revolves around Paul Giamatti’s Paul Hunham, a classics teacher with a strict demeanor, disliked by students and faculty alike. The film’s brilliance lies in the chemistry between Giamatti and Dominic Sessa, the latter delivering a standout debut performance that deserves accolades. Sessa’s Angus Tully, one of the holdover students, becomes the emotional center of the story, navigating abandonment issues and the search for identity.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, portraying cafeteria administrator Mary Lamb, adds depth to the narrative, grieving the loss of her son in the Vietnam War. While Giamatti and Sessa rightfully dominate the spotlight, even to the point of Oscars buzz, Randolph’s remarkable performance should not be overlooked, contributing to the film’s emotional resonance.

The Holdovers is a masterclass in contained storytelling. The first half unfolds within the walls of Barton Academy, the boarding school, before gradually expanding into different locations. This deliberate pacing allows the audience to connect with the characters on a personal level, making the emotional beats more impactful.

The film tackles profound themes, notably the concept of hurt people helping hurt people. It beautifully explores the idea that, despite our flaws and struggles, we all seek connection and solace. The script, penned by David Hemingson in his first writing credit on a feature-length film, weaves humor seamlessly with melancholy, creating an experience that is both heartwarming and emotionally resonant.

Reviews for Films like The Holdovers (2023)

Eigil Bryld’s cinematography captures the essence of the 1970s, with noticeable film grain enhancing the nostalgic atmosphere. The decision to incorporate old-school studio logos, including an incredibly winking pseudo-Focus Features one, adds a delightful touch, reinforcing the film’s commitment to its period setting.

At the core of The Holdovers is a captivating dynamic between characters. The Christmas Eve party scene, where tensions rise and emotions spill over, showcases the impeccable performances and the film’s ability to balance humor with deep, heartfelt moments.

While the movie earns its place as an instant modern holiday classic, it’s not without a couple minor flaws. At a runtime of 133 minutes, it occasionally feels a tad long, especially towards the end with multiple possible endings. However, the film ultimately lands on a satisfying note, making the journey worthwhile.

The Holdovers is a gem that sits among the best of 2023. Its engaging narrative, stellar performances, and thematic richness make it a standout addition to the holiday film canon. Paul Giamatti and Dominic Sessa deliver performances that linger in the viewer’s memory, ensuring that this movie will be revisited year after year. If there’s a movie to cozy up to on Christmas Eve, The Holdovers is undoubtedly it. I can’t wait to see it again.

Best New Movie

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Holiday

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The Holdovers Movie Cast and Credits

The Holdovers movie poster


Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham

Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully

Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb

Carrie Preston as Lydia Crane

Brady Hepner as Teddy Kountze


Director: Alexander Payne

Writer: David Hemingson

Cinematography: Eigil Bryld

Editor: Kevin Tent

Composer: Mark Orton

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