Payne zeroes in on three people at a boarding school during Christmas of 1970. The main character is a reclusive and arrogant ancient civilization's professor (Paul Giamatti), whose sole purpose is to make his students lives' a living hell. The second main character is a grieving mother (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who serves as the school's head lunch lady. And finally, there's an intelligent but brash student, who gets left behind by his selfish parents during the holidays (Dominic Sessa). Starting out, we aren't particularly fond of any of the characters. They come off as brazen, rude, and aloof. But as the film progresses, we get to learn about them, layer by layer, who they really are, why they act the way they do, and by the story's climax, evolve into something more and better.
"The Holdovers" is packed with humor, drama, ambivalent characters, snappy dialog, brilliant directing, and a surprisingly fast pace for its' two hours and 13 minutes. The performances are some of the best I've seen this year. Giamatti delivers top-notched work as Paul Hunham. He hits every note with perfection. He's my pick for 2024's Best Actor Oscar. Da'Vine Joy Randolph gives a quiet yet stoic performance as Mary Lamb. She never overacts, nor does she slip into the stereotypes Hollywood often utilizes for grieving mothers. She's a definite frontrunner for the supporting actress category. Dominic Sessa's breakout performance is truly a breath of fresh air. I can see a long, successful career ahead of him.
I went in to see this movie as a pure recommendation from a friend and am glad I saw it. This is now my favorite Alexander Payne movie and it's officially added to my holiday movie rotation. As of now, I will go so far as to say that this is the best movie of 2023, although I do have a lot of catching up to do. See it on the big screen if you can. It's worth watching, even just to see how people react to some of the zaniness that happens in the movie. 10/10.