133 minutes(5 out of 5)
Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera
3pm on a sunny afternoon at the Brooklyn Penthouse Cinema and the snow is falling in The Holdovers. It lays in drifts on the ground, covering cars, coating branches, dampening the sounds of the world but unable to stifle the incomparable excitement that is the last day of school. The year is 1970 and happy boys with rosy cheeks looking forward to the promise of a fun vacation burst forth from the big doors of Barton Academy – a private boarding school in New England.
Except for a select few who have nowhere to go this Christmas. These ones must remain at Barton until after New Years in the care of their curmudgeonly classics professor Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) and Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school cook who lost her son in the Vietnam War just months ago.
Among the ragtag troupe is Angus Tully (newcomer Dominic Sessa) who is bright and caustic but erratic, a troublemaker, and a royal pain in the… you get the point. Forming an unlikely bond, the trio embark on a melancholy, albeit memorable, adventure.
Dubbed a Christmas-blues movie, The Holdovers – directed by Alexander Payne – is likely to join the holiday-cinema canon. Described as a “masterclass in melancholy” (The Guardian), it’s writer David Hemingson’s screenplay that hits me. Aside from an incredible production design team – which I am furious to learn is not responsible for one of The Holdovers’ five Academy Award nominations – and a superb trio of leading actors, it is the story that truly shines.
So many new films are a spectacle, which is not a bad thing, but the effects and the visuals, the sensationalism and the extremes are the calling cards. The Holdovers is not flashy or groundbreaking or innovative, but in my eyes, it is a work of art. There is no pretence as it captures the essence of humanity. It is simple, raw, and beautiful. It’s been a long, long time since I have seen a film that has reminded me of where my love of cinema came from.