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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Cinema with Sam: ‘The Holdovers’ is a Christmas movie for the books

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“The Holdovers” is a movie to rewatch every holiday season. (Photo courtesy of IMDb)

This week I saw Alexander Payne’s new drama-comedy “The Holdovers” (2023) written by David Hemingson. Known previously for his films “Sideways” (2004), “Election” (1999) and “The Descendents” (2011), Payne needed a critical and financial hit after his prior film, “Downsizing” (2017) starring Matt Damon, failed to live up to expectations. I can proudly say that his comeback is indeed a success.

Payne manages to craft a genuinely charming, funny and emotionally devastating Christmas film. Hemingson’s clever and often laugh-out-loud screenplay creates this comforting world of 1970 you wish you could escape to. Pair that with pinpoint acting all around and Payne letting scenes just be carried by the performances and you get one of the best Christmas films ever made.

The film stars Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a boarding school history teacher tasked to watch over students not going home for the winter holiday. The movie also stars Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully, a student at the boarding school and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb, the school’s head cook. Each character suffers from different hardships and past experiences, but their friendships and bonds grow stronger as the film progresses.

It seems as if Giamatti’s career was leading up to this. A well-respected actor, Giamatti is probably best known for his role in the HBO miniseries “John Adams” (2008) playing the title character. He also starred in Payne’s “Sideways” and a film I remember growing up called “Big Fat Liar” (2002), also starring Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes, but “The Holdovers” is by far Giamatti’s best work out of all the films I’ve seen.

Giamatti delivers every line with gravitas while being extremely funny, loud and brilliant. But when the film gets emotional, Giamatti shows the true Hunham, which is when he shines the most. Speaking of emotional scenes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph is phenomenal as Mary Lamb. As the film’s heart, Randolph brings such love and care to this character that you instantly care for her. Additionally, “The Holdovers” is Sessa’s first-ever film and he also does a fantastic job, even if it does take a little bit to get warmed up to him.

Cinematographer Eigil Bryld managed to create a film that looks like it was shot in the 1970s, lost in the archives of some film studio, then found and released to the public. The look of film grain and seemingly vintage lenses create a warm vibe suited for the story being told. Furthermore, Mark Orton’s soothing acoustic guitar sets the mood just right, creating these moments when just the visuals and audio put a smile on my face. The one downside of the film is that I thought it could’ve ended 20 minutes earlier — the final few scenes were unnecessarily padded out, but the final moments still satisfyingly ended the film.

Overall, Payne, along with Oscar nomination-worthy performances from both Giamatti and Randolph, creates a welcome and comforting Christmas film that I surely will rewatch this time of year, every year.

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About the Contributor
Sam Cohen, Movie Columnist
Sam Cohen (he/him/his) is a junior majoring in Film and Media Studies. He won the Special Grand Jury Prize for his Comedy short film “The Gum Run” at the 2019 Montclair Film Festival Emerging Filmmakers Competition. Sam writes weekly reviews of recent TV Shows and Movies while occasionally reviewing older, forgotten classics. When not reviewing, discussing, or watching films, Sam is also a part of many extracurriculars on campus, including being a co-captain of the Ultimate Frisbee team, a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity, and an officer of the Film Society.

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