The Holdovers

Verdict: This delightful, hilarious and life-affirming film is destined to become a holiday classic

  • Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Tate Donavan, Gillian Vigman
  • January 19th 2024
  • Alexander Payne

Paul Giamatti plays a curmudgeonly teacher forced to stay at his boarding school over the festive holidays.

Alexander Payne’s latest movie, The Holdovers, was recently nominated for seven BAFTA Film Awards – and rightly so.

This delightful festive film (which should have come out at Christmas!) stars Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a curmudgeonly history teacher at a private boarding school for boys.

Given he has no family or social life, Hunham is asked to stay at the school over the holidays and supervise the boys who are unable to go home.

After the rest of the boys make new arrangements, Hunham is stuck there with just rebellious student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) and the cafeteria manager Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

From that summary, it doesn’t sound like it’ll amount to much but don’t worry, you will be won over by this film before it’s finished. You cannot resist its charms and David Hemingson’s top-notch script.

The premise, the dialogue and the way the characters’ backstories are revealed are fantastic.

It is laugh-out-loud hilarious, thanks largely to Hunham’s nasty insults, as well as being heartfelt and moving, as their time together changes them for the better.

Giamatti, who previously worked with Payne on Sideways, is exactly the right actor to play the disgruntled loner who takes his anger out on others.

He holds everybody to an impossibly high standard and cruelly reprimands them if they fail.

Remarkably, this is Sessa’s first movie and he holds his own. Angus really hates his teacher and the feeling is mutual but eventually they realise they have more in common than they think.

While they have the bigger, showier roles, Randolph is the emotional heart of the piece as the grieving mother who doesn’t want to go home for Christmas.

Those who feel nostalgic for the ’70s might get a thrill out of the visuals. Payne doesn’t just set his film in that decade but it makes it look like it was made then too, with grainy visuals and title and rating cards from that period.

The Holdovers is a funny, life-affirming movie that is destined to become a festive classic. The holiday season may be over, but do not miss this delightful film!

In cinemas from Friday 19th January.

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