The Holdovers | TIFF 2023 | Review by: Benjamin Garrett
The Holdovers is the cinematic equivalent of a big warm hug from someone you love. It’s cozy, sentimental, nostalgic and effortlessly endearing. Alexander Payne has not only given us one of the best films of 2023, but arguably the best of his career.
Paul Giamatti plays Professor Hunham - a curmudgeonly teacher at a New England boarding school, tasked with watching over a small group of students with nowhere to go during Christmas break. Through their time together, character dynamics shift and a few unlikely bonds are formed. It’s ultimately a story about an unconventional, seemingly incompatible “family”, and the surprising impact they have on each other’s lives.
Giamatti is exceptional as the tragically misunderstood professor with a very prickly demeanour. The students hate him, understandably, but through Giamatti’s performance you can tell this character hasn’t had the easiest life. In fact, the same can be said of the others as well. All of them come with emotional baggage, and that damage creates empathy, allowing them to feel grounded and loveable. Da’Vine Joy Randolph and breakout star Dominic Sessa are both pitch perfect, brightening every scene with so much heart and humour. The evolving chemistry between these three characters is wonderful.
Payne and Cinematographer Eigil Bryld capture the early 1970’s brilliantly, with a striking aesthetic that harkens back to the films of that time. Modern period pieces often shove their time period in your face, but this one genuinely feels as if you’re watching something crafted fifty years ago. Everything has been constructed to resemble the signature vintage look of the decade, from the film stock presentation to the music, to the camera and editing work - the craftsmanship in making something old fashioned is sublime.
Like sitting by a crackling fire on a cold winter day, The Holdovers will warm your heat. It covers familiar territory, but does so with a tenderness that’s impossible not to love. Gorgeously crafted and exceptionally acted, Alexander Payne has just gifted us a new holiday classic.
Review by: Benjamin Garrett