Three Characters In Search of a Christmas: “The Holdovers” is a Triumph

Behold the island of misfit goys stuck together over the 1970 Christmas break at a New England prep school campus in Alexander Payne’s snappy and sentimental The Holdovers (A-). A grumpy instructor brilliantly inhabited by Paul Giamatti, a brainy student troublemaker beautifully portrayed by Dominic Sessa and the school’s head cook, a grieving mother flawlessly played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph are among the sterling ensemble of this seriocomedy about the unlikely bonds formed between surrogate families. Payne is a preeminent chronicler of the American experience, and he finds pockets of marvelous introspection in the seeds of the Me Decade as the cynical denizens who populate his story reflect on loneliness, loss and the lies people sometimes tell themselves to cope. That said, the film is often riotously funny amidst the piercing insights. This is the curmudgeon role for which Giamatti was born to play, as viewers watch the blowhard soften up over time. Sessa and Randolph provide the lead actor magnificent foils at two different generations and are vital contributors to one of the most endearing trios to share the screen of late. The skillful production design and mellow music capture a lovely innocence juxtaposed with the movie’s smartly sketched characters. The story could have used some tightening in a few key passages, and there are times when Randolph’s glorious character gets mildly sidelined and missed; but Payne’s picaresque with indelible characters is one for the history books. 

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