“The Holdovers”: Brilliant Evolution of Character

When I saw that “The Holdovers” starred Paul Giamatti, I was sold. I knew his acting would be excellent and the story sounded engaging. The acting and the writing did not disappoint. Not only was Paul Giamatti exceptional but so too were the other performers and this film has a brilliant evolution of character and a story that beautifully balanced between humor and drama. 

“The Holdovers” is a period comedy drama film directed by Alexander Payne and written by David Hemingson. The film follows curmudgeonly instructor Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) who is forced to remain on the boarding school campus to babysit the handful of students who have nowhere else to go. With the help of the head cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who recently lost her son, Paul eventually forms an unlikely bond with one of the students, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a brainy troublemaker who’s family life is difficult.  The three bond over the holidays but difficulties face all three. 

The film does a superb job of building the story. We meet all of the students who have to stay, especially Angus but more importantly, we’re shown how grumpy and difficult Paul can be. The film leans into the characters, illustrating their flaws but also the similarities between the pair and how lost both really are. The film progresses beautifully to demonstrate how the connection between the three strengthens them and then creates a brilliant evolution of character in all three. All of them change and grow through interacting with each other and others to become more than they were by the end of the film.

The movie beautifully balances the comedy and the drama. There are some completely exquisite moments of laughter, like when Paul awkwardly shares a plate of cookies he received or when Angus asks for beer. Mary gets many comedic lines that just add to the comedy. And the irascible nature of Paul as an instructor and a man inevitably gives rise to laughter. The humor and the drama are woven together. And as the filmmaker’s explore with humor, they bring it around to drama, to show that you need to connect with another person to truly understand and empathize with their life. The connection between the characters is what makes this film so powerful. 

This film would not be half as emotional and powerful without the acting. Paul Giamatti is exceptionally good, playing his character with both quirkiness, awkwardness and humor. His dynamic with both Dominic Sessa who plays Angus and Da’Vine Joy Randolph who plays Mary is rich and emotional. Dominic Sessa is at turns brilliantly sarcastic but also plays his character with vulnerability and openness. Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Mary as someone warm but also intelligent, strong willed and grieving. There is a beautifully touching scene between Mary and her sister and Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays that scene with subtle sorrow but also great emotion. Carrie Preston as Miss Lydia Crane who also works at the school is warm and loving. The entire cast plays their roles superbly. 

One of the only critiques I can offer is that the film is slow as it builds the relationships and dynamic between the characters. It is necessary so we can see the development of the characters, the evolution of their characters and how they grow but this makes the film very much a character driven film that is slower than the normal action film. If you like rich stories that move slower, then that won’t be a problem.

If you love rich, detailed films with beautiful character development and you like Paul Giamatti, I highly recommend this movie. “The Holdovers” is emotional and powerful with a true and brilliant evolution of character. The acting is phenomenal by the entire cast and it is one of Giamatti’s best performances. Da’Vine Joy Randolph excels at the comedic moments but also adds emotion and depth to her role. Dominic Sessa is superb as a damaged but intelligent Angus. I loved the depth to the story, the emotion of the drama and the laughter in the comedic scenes. It is one of the most masterful character driven films I have seen. It is a beautiful story about connection and growth. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 books. 

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