Holiday movies are essential to getting through the winter months, giving families a chance to laugh and cry together. And during the holiday season, “The Holdovers” filled that gap.
A film by “Election” director Alexander Payne, “The Holdovers” tells the story of a high school student left in his New England boarding school over winter break with a couple of adults, all of whom are grappling with some type of unwantedness.
Payne has a wonderful command of tone and aesthetic as a director, using color and angles to make the audience feel like they’re transported back in time to the 70s.
Attempting to make the film authentic, Payne shot his film at established New England boarding schools. Dominic Sessa, who debuts as main character Angus Tully, is a former student of one of the shooting locations.
Sessa plays opposite Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, the grumpy old history teacher, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb, the school’s cook who’s still grieving the loss of her son.
The film is made to spotlight Giamatti in a sense. He holds the majority of the weighty moments and is the key character to change during the film. It’s built around his arc, but the movie doesn’t even understand the character’s true intentions half of the time.
Though good on the surface, examining the plot of “The Holdovers” further makes it a questionable piece of art.
Early in the film, we’re introduced to a larger group of boys who are also forced to stay over the break, but the boys are shuffled out of the picture and this plot thread gets left in the dust.
The specific tragedies that the characters experience feel so shoehorned in that they’re almost painful to watch. It feels like Payne polled a random group on the saddest things to happen in a movie, then included their responses in the script.
Randolph, who plays the only prominent woman and person of color in this film has acting moments that are memorable and impactful, like her performance in the Christmas party scene.
But besides that, she’s relegated to a helping position from the kitchen, only allowed a few quippy remarks and wise words when she brings food in.
It makes the movie feel not only like it was not just based in the past, but actually made in the past. As it tries to capture some version of the 70s, it completely loses everything else, including plot.