If you’re looking for a new old comedy drama to sit down with over the holidays, “The Holdovers” has you covered.
Only director Alexander Payne’s eighth feature-length film, “The Holdovers” debuted with a limited release on Oct. 27, 2023, followed by wider screening in November. It stars Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa as an unlikely trio stuck at their boarding school for the holidays. It is the second collaboration between Payne and Giamatti after “Sideways” (2004).
The lead three form an impeccable comedic and dramatic dynamic, with Giamatti’s Paul Hunham as the curmudgeonly classics professor, Sessa as his struggling but good-hearted student Angus Tully, and Randolph as cafeteria worker Mary Lamb, mother in mourning, and emotional heart of the film. As the story unfolds and the three open up to each other in their shared isolation, they become a fleeting, messy found family of people who, one way or another, have no one to spend the holidays with.
While all of the performances were truly stellar, “The Holdovers” truly sold me on Giamatti as a comedy actor. He plays the harsh stickler that both students and faculty hate, and while the comedic potential of pairing him with Sessa’s abandoned troublemaker is a classic formula, Giamatti’s erudite quips and Sessa’s antics make for some unforgettable laughs. But it’s Rudolph’s portrayal which helps center the movie’s more emotional and melancholic moments, which ramp up as the walls between the characters break down and they take greater steps to make the holidays bearable for one another.
It’s a pacing that’s evocative of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” (1987), taking you for a hilarious (though perhaps not quite as wild) ride before leaving you in tears towards the end.
And despite being set in 70s New England, “The Holdovers” feels remarkably modern – maybe a little more than makes sense for the setting, but I’ll let it slide – touching on mental illness and social inequality, and early on even seeming like a pandemic-era flick with its near-empty school cafeteria dinner scenes.
It’s a beautiful, funny and easily rewatchable film, a new classic in my book.