A movie about more than Christmas, The Holdovers offers a change of pace for those seeking respite from cuddly holiday cheer. Set at an exclusive private school during Christmas break in the days when no one considered that December might involve other holidays, David Hemingson’s screenplay brings together a group of stragglers with no place to spend their time off—hence the “holdovers” title. Ranging from prickly to grumpy to defensive, and sad, these holdovers resent their situation but find ways to deal with it. As he showed years ago with Sideways, Director Alexander Payne specializes in finding humor with the wounded characters he brings together. The Holdovers reteams Payne with Sideways star Paul Giamatti, once again playing a pinot noir kind of guy, thin skinned and in need of special handling. Perfect for the role of the teacher left behind to supervise an unwilling batch of students, Giamatti catches the conundrum of a person trying to hide his deeper emotions while inadvertently revealing them. Giamatti gets strong support from his fellow performers. Though older than his character in real life, actor Dominic Sessa brings a tightly coiled vulnerability his role as a teenager not yet at terms with a bad hand dealt him by life. Meanwhile, the divine Da’Vine Joy Randolph gives the movie much of its heart, still grieving over her recently deceased son while turning up daily to cook meals for the holdovers. Their circumstances initially seem obvious, but David Hemingson’s script turns in a few twists, leaving in a bit of edge while maintaining an overall sense of warmth—the kind that makes nice holiday viewing.
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