The Holdovers

The Holdovers ★★★★

Three wounded people trapped by circumstance in a boarding school over the Christmas break is the central premise of Alexander Payne's bittersweet comedy The Holdovers. That all three will thaw and melt, let their guards down, and become the human beings beyond their roles as student/teacher/cook is a given (from the trailer, from just the basic mood of the film). But it's the journey, not the destination here, that makes the film enjoyable, especially Giamatti's amazing wall-eyed performance, because he is the furthest inside his shell. But the shell is hilarious, formed from a lifetime of dealing with the worst fail-sons of the rich and disinterested, hiding his own failures by gleefully assigning detentions, homework over break, and grading his class on a curve that starts at C- and ends at F. (I laughed at him giving one dunce an F+ as if that's a thing). At 21 playing 17 (at least in held-back-a-grade terms), Dominic Sessa's Angus is Giamatti's Paul's equal, but obviously the father/son each has never had. The most settled character is Da’Vine Joy Randolph's Mary Lamb (I see what you did there), who has extended family, but is still mourning her son's death and can't move on. The ghosts of Vietnam and current failing empirical adventures haunt these halls, as does functioning alcoholism and depression. Payne wraps it up expertly, but in no grand gesture. Instead, these characters have stepped out into the larger world beyond their self-imposed terrariums.

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