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Paul Giamatti At The Top Of His Game In The Holdovers

October 4th, 2023Paul Giamatti At The Top Of His Game In The Holdovers

THE HOLDOVERS opens on October 27

Actor-director combinations can be quite thrilling. We tend to get excited any time Martin Scorsese collaborates with Leonardo DiCaprio, or Greta Gerwig teams with Saoirse Ronan, or Samuel L. Jackson accepts a role in a Quentin Tarantino movie. You might not think of Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne when drawing up those combinations, but given their past partnerships, they absolutely belong on any such list. Their initial collaboration, 2004’s SIDEWAYS, should have earned Giamatti his first Academy Awards nomination (he’d eventually get nominated in 2006 for Ron Howard’s CINDERELLA MAN). But we are willing to bet that Giamatti hears his name announced at the 2024 Academy Awards for the stellar work he does as the lead of Payne’s upcoming comedy, THE HOLDOVERS, a new movie that we've recognized as an AMC Artisan Film.

Payne’s eighth film, and his first since 2017’s DOWNSIZING, is set on the campus of a prestigious New England prep school in the 1970s. It’s Christmas break, and most kids are either heading home or off on holiday with their wealthy families. But veteran teacher Paul Hunham agrees to stay behind with the teenagers who have no place to go over the break – the “holdovers.” It’s glorified babysitting, but Hunham finds himself growing closer to the disgruntled and restless Angus (Dominic Sessa) the more time that they spend together.

You can make an argument that Giamatti has played some version of this character before – an uptight pessimist who finds fault with almost everyone around him. Giamatti’s character in Payne’s SIDEWAYS sort of fits that bill. There, he played a struggling author and wine snob who struggles to let his guard down while on a weekend binge with his best friend (Thomas Hayden Church) through Northern California.

But there’s a lot more happening beneath the surface of Paul Hunham in THE HOLDOVERS, and it’s a credit to how masterful Giamatti has become at slowly peeling back the layers of the wonderfully complicated character handed to him by Payne and screenwriter David Hemingson. Giamatti is one of our most gifted actors, often hiding a warm heart beneath his crusty exterior. And some of the joy in each of these performances comes from us figuring out why the man in question is the way that he is.

Those answers await you in THE HOLDOVERS, but you get an equally enjoyable enigma opposite Giamatti in the part of Sessa’s character, Angus. Why is it that Angus had no place to go for the holidays? What are some of the reasons why he clashes with his instructor? What are some of the things that he wishes he’d rather be doing over this break from coursework? And how will he eventually find a way to meet his professor halfway… or will he be able to get there at all? Giamatti sinks his teeth into the material, as expected, but all credit goes to Sessa for holding his own opposite the AMERICAN SPLENDOR and 12 YEARS A SLAVE star. It’s a task that’s easier said than done.

Standing out opposite Giamatti can be a challenge, though it’s one that’s risen to by outstanding THE HOLDOVERS co-star Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who gets swept up in the holiday adventure. Randolph’s character, Mary, is tasked with sustaining the holdover crew through her kitchen, but the delightful actress manages to be a vital soundboard to the supporting characters. She’s the rock of stability in what can be some choppy dramatic waters, and her contributions to THE HOLDOVERS end up being more significant than anticipated.

In THE HOLDOVERS, director Alexander Payne recreates a time and place that feels comfortable, lived-in, and warm. The cinematography and pacing make it seem like Payne found a canister of film lying on the floor in the archives somewhere and thread it through a projector, showing the world what he’d discovered. All of his visual flourishes contribute to the mood of this winning movie, one that we expect to return to often as we work our way through the ongoing race for the Academy Awards. Make sure that you are part of the conversation around Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor by securing your tickets to THE HOLDOVERS when it opens at AMC Theatres.

THE HOLDOVERS opens on October 27

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