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Alexander Payne fashions a curmudgeon, elegiac Christmas in The Holdovers yet he infuses the movie with such humour, warmth and indelible performances you can’t help but love it.

Despite being dominated by feelings of sorrow, loneliness and regret The Holdovers is unequivocally a yuletide film that will put a big, warm smile on your face when the credits roll.

Taking place of the course of the 1970 winter break, the picture sees a curmudgeon teacher stranded at school with a rebellious student and the kitchen manager, who recently lost her son in Vietnam. Against the odds the clashing characters find out they have more in common than they initially thought and establish a common understanding of each other and of human nature.

The heartwarming, predictable beats of the story are definitely The Holdovers' weakest link, while the plot meanders a bit too much between anecdotal scenes but this is mostly made up by an astute sense of seventies atmosphere, the dark, witty humour and a trio of exquisite performances.

Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti already proved that they are a match made in heaven and the actor gives probably his best performance since Sideways in this new collaboration. Newcomer Dominic Sessa more than holds his own against Giamatti but the show is stolen by a soullful, touching Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who seems deservedly bound for Oscar gold this year.

So while Alexander Payne doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of his best work, The Holdovers remains an endlessly watchable tragicomic crowdpleaser that will undoubtable become a Christmas staple in years and decades to come.

release: 2023

director: Alexander Payne

starring: Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Carrie Preston


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