Saturday 24 February 2024

Movie Review: The Holdovers (2023)

Genre: Drama  
Director: Alexander Payne  
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da'Vine Joy Randolph  
Running Time: 133 minutes  

Synopsis: It's 1970, and Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is a teacher of ancient civilizations at the Barton private high school for boys in New England. Never married, he is strict, smelly, and disliked, including by disruptive student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa). With Christmas approaching, Paul is assigned to care for the "holdover" students not rejoining their families for the Holidays. Also staying behind is cafeteria manager Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who recently lost her son in Vietnam. The group of holdover boys is eventually whittled down to just Tully, forcing teacher and student to learn more about each other.

What Works Well: Reminiscent of movies like Scent Of A Woman (1992) and The Paper Chase (1973), this is a simple story of breaking through exterior preconceptions to uncover a human connection. The 1970s milieu is lovingly recreated, and Paul Giamatti embodies the crusty but fragile teacher, caustically holding on to old-fashioned beliefs because that is all he has. Both Hunham and Tully are headstrong but sensitive, resulting in some sparks on the path to revelations.

What Does Not Work As Well: The running time is much too long for the straightforward story, and director Alexander Payne indulges in slow pacing and plenty of padding. Free of narrative surprises or any twists, the drama crawls towards all the expected outcomes, with some puzzling choices like introducing but then dispatching (to a ski trip) four other holdovers.

Conclusion: Heart-felt and well-staged, but also familiar and laborious. 

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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