If you ever saw “Sideways,” you’ll want to see this. I say that because I liked that movie so much, I would guess I’ve seen it ten times… maybe more. Anyhow, this film is director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, Election) and actor Paul Giamatti’s (John Adams, Private Parts) second time working together.
Shame. I’d like to have seen that number much larger. Well, I’m crossing my fingers for much more to come. Payne is one of a small group of directors who have final cut rights with his films. I would say that’s well deserved. He has often been nominated for best director but won for “Sideways” and “The Descendants.” Paul Giamatti’s work earned him a Best Supporting Actor Role in 2006 for his part as Joe Gould in “Cinderella Man.” His performance in “The Holdovers” will, no doubt in my mind, win him another nomination if not the win itself. Everything about this movie is exceptional; everything about the very skilled Giamatii being in it makes it that much better.
Payne saw a 1930s French feature and came up with the concept of this film. He reached out to television writer David Hemingson to write a pilot, initially believing it would make a good show. Miramax acquired the rights, and filming began in January 2022. Researching this, I found out there was a special screening of the picture, and “it was reported that Focus Features had acquired the distribution rights for $30 million.” Well, it’s already Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so that wasn’t a bad idea. I implore you to add this to your must-sees for the year.
The main storyline is tremendous, and it didn’t hurt that the characters surrounding it were written by a TV writer who gave Payne a plethora of people who challenge those around them because in the world they grew up in, they had to be tough… or found it fun to be. The actors portraying these people are spot-on brilliant. Paul Hunham (Giamatti) is a professor at a private school. His classes are filled with politicians’ sons and legacies. Hunham is a killjoy who won’t bust or sacrifice his integrity for kids who don’t deserve a grade just because of who their daddy is. When you meet most of them, you see why, but he doesn’t go out of his way to reach them positively, either.
Mary Lamb, played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph from “Empire” and “Only Murders in the Building” is loving but stern. Challenging yet hysterical. Randolph has done a lot of TV, so she was prepared for the shots and jabs she had to give, which will have you rolling in the aisles. She’s mom to everyone whether they want to admit it or not… and whether she likes the idea or not. When Hunham gives them homework and the lowest grades anyone has ever seen on top of that, Mary expresses to him that he should at least try and be human, reminding him it’s Christmas.
The title comes from the fact that he’s the teacher who has to remain with the four students who have to stay at the school over the holidays for one reason or another. He isn’t kind because they were left behind. He’s the opposite of kind not only because of how they treat him and others but because he doesn’t have a privileged background. They remind him of what young boys like him went through against boys like them, so, through him, they’ll see what it’s like in the real world.
Hunham’s not going to get a chance to teach the kids this lesson because one of the wealthiest kids’ father picks up three of the boys and they go to have a proper Christmas. Only one, Tully (Dominic Sessa), has to stay behind. This is where the film begins to gets rich with significance.
The dialogue is outstanding and what unravels between student and teacher is remarkable. Tully begins to open up to someone about his life for the first time. Sitting in a theater and watching this film upon release is where you need to be. This is one of the better films of this decade so far and will take you, hopefully, to a place you’ve never been. Payne puts you front and center of these three lives, and before the end, you’ll have decided to get up and get another ticket to watch them again.
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: David Hemingson
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine, Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa
Rating: R (Some Drug Use|Language|Brief Sexual Material)
Runtime: 2h 13m
Genres: Holiday, Comedy
Distributor: Focus Features
Producer: Mark Johnson, Bill Block, David Hemingson
Production Co: Miramax, Gran Via
*Release Date (Theaters): Nov 10, 2023 Wide