Sublime is the word to use for Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, which stars Paul Giammati as a fucking asshole of a teacher who discovers he does indeed have a heart, thanks to an unlikely friendship formed with a student, who is also a fucking asshole.
Dominic Sessa plays Angus Tully, a smart but troubled teen who finds himself stuck under the stern thumb of teacher Paul Hunham during winter break. As much as they hate each other, their curmudgeonly attitudes slowly begin to pick at each others’ fragile facades.
The Holdovers is a movie I had zero interest in, but one should never underestimate Mr. Payne (Election, Sideways, The Descendants). It’s a small film, with minimal plot inertia and the smallest of stakes at hand. And yet every moment of this damn movie is just, simply… sublime.
Beautifully shot with a soothing old-school aesthetic that all but massages your tender muscles in your chair, Payne establishes a wonderful atmosphere that feels lived in–and makes you feel as if you’re they’re, too. Working from a screenplay by David Hemingson, the actors and their incredible chemistry with one another elevate the material beat by beat. Giamatti is at his very best, which says something, and Sessa is downright fantastic. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is also sensational in a supporting role; it’s an award-worthy performance if I’ve ever seen one.
I struggle with writing reviews that work so well, so I’ll cut this short: The Holdovers is easily one of the best movies of the year, a perfect little piece of filmmaking and performance art that is funny, entertaining, powerful, and immersive. Oh, and sublime.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.