I think I’ve found a new favorite film. While original stories seem hard to come by nowadays, this one stuck out to me. It flew under my radar until I found out it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Excitedly, I started watching this film with no expectations and no spoilers, and I was rewarded.
“The Holdovers,” written by David Hemingson and directed by Alexander Payne, is a surprisingly upbeat and touching film that explores depression and loss. It follows a ragtag group of characters who find themselves left at a boarding school during the holiday season.
It’s 1970, and after an excruciatingly long semester, troubled junior Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) finds out he will be spending winter break at a New England prep school. Meanwhile, everyone’s least favorite teacher, the strict Mr. Hunham (Paul Giamatti), is forced to supervise all the students who are “holdovers” with school Head Chef Mrs. Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Rudolph), whose son recently died. All three need to learn to tolerate each other if they hope to make it to the next semester.
The acting among everyone in the cast was outstanding. Randolph — well deserving of her Oscar nomination — does a phenomenal job with her character as the audience watches her mourn and love. She is so beautifully entrancing as she balances Mary’s comedic undertones while making her emotionally nuanced. Even with her somewhat short screen time, she steals every scene she is in and makes her arc in the film more satisfying.
Her fellow co-stars and leads, Giamatti and Sessa, have amazing chemistry together. Mr. Huhnam, performed by Giamatti, who has also received an Oscar nomination, was a wonderfully complex and broken character to follow, which was elevated by Sessa’s performance. He does a great job going between an infuriating teacher (a character everyone can relate to) and an endearing father figure.
I was surprised that, after some research, Sessa was a newcomer who managed to hold his own throughout the film. His acting was constantly on par with the other seasoned actors, as he established himself as a great up-and-coming actor. I hope to see more from him while he continues his acting career in dramedies.
The film accomplished so much by being simple; although this may seem like a fault, it allowed the actors to carry the story, permitting layered storytelling. The simplicity is seen from the cinematography —which was never too jarring— to the score, never undermining the humorous and emotionally vulnerable scenes. Everything was done almost to perfection.
Occasionally, it would falter with slow pacing, taking me out of its beautiful storytelling. This happened particularly between the second and third acts, when I started to recognize the movie’s runtime.
I am ridiculously hopeful that Rudolph gets the Oscar for supporting actress for this gorgeously crafted film. I can also confirm that this is one of my new favorite films. Although the weather may be cold outside, I highly recommend this movie if you want to warm your heart.