November 6, 2023

CINEMA | Paul Giamatti Babysits 'The Holdovers' x TIFF 2023

"You can't even dream a whole dream, can you?"
Paul Giamatti Alexander Payne | The Holdovers
Toronto International Film Festival
The Holdovers is a gruff yet warm-hearted dramedy directed by Academy Award-winning dramatist Alexander Payne. Set in the early 1970s at an elite New England prep school during winter break, the film revolves around three lost and lonely misfits finding comfort and understanding in each other's flaws while stranded together during the holiday season.

Sideways star Paul Giamatti and newcomer Dominic Sessa star as a much-hated history teacher and a delinquent teenager held back for bad behaviour stuck with each other in an empty campus during a snowy winter break. When they are forced to be one another's company alongside the cafeteria manager (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who's grieving her son's recent death, their prickly nature slowly thaws while they fill in backstories based on unfortunate mistakes made, leading them together.

Written by David Hemingson, the Christmas film's profoundly lonely characters avoid tropes by diving into the actors' layered, nuanced performances. Giamatti continues to do fine work without any vanity as he's fearlessly made unattractive through his characters' grumpy, sour demeanour and wandering eye. Randolph is soulful and touching in a quiet performance that uses her sublime comic instincts for a more subdued sense of humorous melancholy. Newcomer Sessa embodies a complex role and the desperate dysfunction of an abandoned teenager struggling to cope with absent parents.

Payne takes several simple premises, ideas, and well-worn character archetypes to make a touching, heartfelt film fully reminiscent of its nostalgic time period. The Holdovers sets a clear mood and vibe to the story's Northeastern setting while aping its snowy Christmas timeframe to unfold some pleasantly entertaining character development. It almost makes you want to spend an isolated winter holiday season trapped alone with Giamatti and Randolph.

The Holdovers screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program.

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