The Holdovers Review: Paul Giamatti's Film Is Astutely Mounted But Formulaic

The Holdovers Review: Paul Giamatti's Film Is Astutely Mounted But Formulaic

The film, with its - light, friendly, and even funny tone, appears formulaic in stimulating empathy towards the characters

Troy RibeiroUpdated: Thursday, February 15, 2024, 07:31 PM IST
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Seacia Pavao

Title: The Holdovers

Director: Alexander Payne

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa, Carrie Preston, Andrew Garman, Tate Donovan, Gillian Vigman, Brady Hepner, Naheem Garcia, Jim Kaplan, Alexander Cook, Michael Provost

Where: In theatres.

Rating: ***1/2

This is a bitter-sweet, gentle, and redemptive story told through the lives of loners- who are left behind to deal on their own at an elite boarding school during the Christmas vacation.

From the very first scene of the film Director Alexander Payne takes us on a journey that reminds you of life at Barton, a boarding school in New England, in 1970.

A crabby, unpopular teacher, Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), is saddled to take care of five boys who are, for various reasons, unable to go home for their break. The students despise their teacher, and the feeling is mutual.

By happenstance, one of the detained boys’ father takes four of the boys for a vacation, leaving Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), an intelligent but problematic student, to remain at school, as his mother and stepfather are out of reach and unable to give him permission to leave school with the other boys.

Forced with no other option, Agnus has to spend his vacation alone in the boarding school with Hunham and Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school cook, who has an equally painful history and reasons to stay back during the vacations.

After much soul-searching and an impromptu road trip to Boston, the trio bond together over their failures and heartbreaks. This forms the crux of the narrative.

The narrative is a nuanced exploration of the complexities of human relationships, especially about personal growth, friendship, and sacrifices, against the backdrop of cruel classist rigidity. The film also touches upon morals and ethics passed down by teachers to students but, at the same time, inadvertently emphasises on seizing the day and enjoying life.

With amusing one-liners like, “Friends are overrated,” or “History is not simply the study of the past, it is an explanation of the present,’ or “Life is perception,” the crisp dialogues are a masterclass in capturing the character voices, but then, most of the film’s affecting moments are dialogue-free.

While the film begins with somewhat boisterously funny scenes, which are sometimes monotonous, the plot appears to meander. It only gets focused when the trio is pitched together, and the narrative picks up considerable momentum only in the final act.

Paul Giamatti, in all his irritable glory, delivers a spot-on performance. He is pointedly and hilariously accurate in depicting a man who has spent a lifetime hiding from his feelings, only to be revealed as a much more complex individual than he ever envisaged himself to be.

Similarly, Dominic Sessa gives a brilliant performance in his maiden appearance. He holds his own opposite Giamatti. With his sharp features and expressive face, he shines as he portrays his emotional turmoil.

The duo is aptly supported by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who portrays Mary’s raw plight and weary dignity with achingly deliberate movements.

Overall, the film, with its - light, friendly, and even funny tone, appears formulaic in stimulating empathy towards the characters.

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