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The Holdovers: a poignant, beautiful and above all, extremely funny film

'It is like mixing the search for connection and purpose in Lost in Translation, combining it with the shattering emotion in Aftersun, and neatly wrapping it in the humour of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.'

Courtesy of IMDb

By Sean Lawrenson, Second Year, English

Anyone who has been to the cinema in the last two months has almost certainly seen a trailer for Alexander Payne’s latest film, The Holdovers. Whilst the voiceover and freeze frame shots suggest the film would just be another B-Movie comedy, it is so much more than that. Initially, I did what I imagine most people would, I laughed at the trailer for its absurdity and thought ‘Why on earth would I watch that?’, but the film is quite beautiful, at times very poignant and above all else, extremely funny. It is like mixing the search for connection and purpose in Lost in Translation (2003), combining it with the shattering emotion in Aftersun (2022), and neatly wrapping it in the humour of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

Courtesy of IMDb

Needless to say, the casting was an inspired choice. Paul Giamatti excels as Paul Hunham, the despised teacher of Ancient History at an American boarding school, filled with what he views as conniving, privileged kids born with a silver spoon firmly in their hands. Giamatti manages to capture a complete, almost Dickensian (think Scrooge if the spirits came in the form of a grieving dinner lady) transformation in character.

The interactions towards the film's conclusion between Hunham and Angus Gully, the only ‘student holdover’ (played by newcomer Dominic Sessa) are some of the most heartwarming scenes I have seen in a cinema for a while. They are a classic case of stubborn adult who never had kids and a neglected child forming their own weird family. That sounds like a negative, and it probably would have been if the roles were not played so genuinely. Of course, the key to this weird home-from-home is Mary Lamb, the aforementioned dinner lady. By far the standout of the film is Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s portrayal of Mary, deftly balancing the mixture of immense grieving with a want to see people be happier. Both Randolph and Giamatti won Golden Globes for their roles, and the wins are fully deserved.

Courtesy of IMDb

Not only do I think it is the perfect film for a cold January (it is full of idyllic snow-filled shots of the New England landscape), but there is also a warmth that shines through so vividly. A comedy that tries drama always has to earn those moments of seriousness. You cannot just go from slapstick humour of a chase scene around the halls of a prep school to quite damning scenes about grief and abandonments unless those scenes lay the groundwork for this to happen. The underlying sense that no one is happy, and everyone is simply trying to make the most of it pulsates throughout the first half of the film, surrounded by the humour.

Courtesy of IMDb

A note also to the soundtrack of the film, important for any film, but especially a comedy like this. The wild mix of 70’s rock tunes and Christmas hymns sung by the prep school choir is an inspired choice. You can tell that this is a film where everything was just working. From Payne’s direction, which simply allows the acts to embody their characters, to the performances themselves. Even in the littlest details, such as the furnishing of Mary Lamb’s home, you can find aspects of joy and anguish. The film truly is a million times better than the trailer had me believe and will have you laughing, then probably sobbing, and then leave you with a smile and a solitary tear down your cheek.

What did you think of The Holdovers?