The Holdovers – Some Reasons Why It’s One of the Best Films of 2023

Allow me to begin this by saying if you haven’t seen “The Holdovers,” please do. The holidays are the ideal times to go, based on what the story is situated around.

I’ve seen writer, director, and producer Alexander Payne’s film “Sideways” about a dozen times. I’m confident I can and will watch it a dozen more. Paul Giamatti was ripped off that year for not winning Best Actor, but that’s a discussion for another time. I only mention it because I have already seen this movie twice and am planning a third.


The way Alexander Payne brings performances out of his actors, presentations they probably weren’t even sure were in them, is stupendous. The man’s accomplishments are synonymous with perfection regarding his ability to entertain an audience. His movie “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and many others, is a must-see for any Payne fan. Haven’t watched? Correct that asap. “Election,” starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, is up there, too. Ask Payne. He’ll tell you that himself. In fact, I hear tell that there will be a sequel to “Election” and if Reese Witherspoon will be returning as the main, pain in the rear, Tracy Flick, I’ll be there. Yes. It’s coming. I can’t express how happy it makes me to know this. How has Flick grown as a person? I’m unquestionably in to find out, that’s for sure!


His new film is brilliant. I love how he covers religion, and the soundtrack is magnificent. I’m curious about his next project, which he hints will be a Western like the ones he watched as a boy, but let’s stick to “The Holdovers” for now. I apologize. I love his work so much that I get carried away sometimes.


As you know doubt have read or seen, this film is about a few well-off kids at a prep school who, for some reason or another, aren’t able to go home for the holiday break. Someone needs to be there for them and this year, it’s griper and groaner Paul Hunham (Giamatti). The film is set in the 1970’s, even beginning with the blue banner and scratches with the light popping noises you’d hear from the film’s projector. The beginning credits are a lovely start to get you in the right frame of mind for a movie so heavy. In fact, he appreciated that I noticed the authenticity he was going for and that it was being endorsed.


Giamatti also suggests we see “Paper Bridges”, a film that resonated with him in making this. Interestingly, it’s a documentary about the holocaust of all things. Watching the documentary, you can see what he means. The premise of this film came from Payne seeing “Merlusse” a French comedy years and years ago. He presented his idea of turning it into a movie to writer David Hemingson, who writes mostly television. Since he has a background in prep schools, and so does Paul Giamatti, it all seemed like a perfect fit. Head east to a New England prep school and shoot this thing!


Enter young Dominic Sessa, who was also in prep school at the time. His drama teacher insisted he audition for a background role. He had just been in a Neil Simon play. So, he auditioned. Payne couldn’t find anyone, but this Dominic Sessa kept coming to mind. He looks the part if nothing else… but he can act, too. His final audition was with Alexander Payne. They read the script together, and he gleefully got the part. Talk about a well-fit group because Sessa was at Deersfield and Giamatti went to Choate. They happen to be rival schools, so for them to be butting heads throughout the film felt and was sincere.


Giamatti mentions that they all had two to three weeks to get to know one another before shooting, which is almost unheard of. Sessa was a natural. Watching him up on that screen, you’d think he had been acting since he was in diapers. Though it comes through in the writing, of course, some of his scenes with Giamatti were simply beautiful.


Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays the cafeteria manager, Mary Lamb, whose son Curtis just died in the war. She said there was some improvisation because getting those few weeks to know one another was a luxury they weren’t usually afforded. She was in “Dolemite is My Name,” which Payne liked her in and why he became interested in her for the role.


She was called in to read and walk through some ideas. In the first meeting, she asked Alexander Payne if she could see some of HIS work first. “Sideways” did it for her, of course. She was excited and grateful that he asked her to be in his movie. She had to release control to him and go for it. Randolph had some excruciating scenes and carried the weight of having the top comedic role in the film.

She mentions that, at first, she was uncomfortable with Payne sitting right next to the camera all the time, observing very closely. But eventually, she grew to need and want him there. He was making her portrayal of a grieving mother better by being near her.


When Giamatti mentions that he’s in a “Period movie” and it’s set in the 1970s, he gets a little distressed. Period films are supposed to be horses and buggies, not when he was alive. I understand his pain. From the flick, Paul Giamatti’s eye is brought up a lot. He says an actor’s job is to make a director’s job easy. So, his eye (you’ll know what I mean by that when you see it this weekend) is pure acting and movie magic. Keep your eye on that eye. It’s hard to tell sometimes which one was the “walleye,” as the students called him, and which wasn’t.


Payne references that shooting in Boston with real snow falling in the bitter cold is how you should make your film. Be as authentic and make your film as organic as possible. It’s all about “Location. Location. Location.”


As I have already pushed you to see this movie, I cannot stress enough the importance of seeing it now. You’ll be angry if you try and watch it some summer down the road. Watch it this weekend. There’s nothing about it you’ll not appreciate and some of it you may even relate to. It has the right blend of comedy, drama and the human ability to touch one another. The dialogue is phenomenal.

Payne wanted his actors to watch certain films, “Paper Moon” being one of them, to prepare them for being involved in this project. If you feel you must watch “Paper Moon” first, do. After, see “The Holdovers.” I don’t want you to kick yourself or blame me for not catching it sooner.


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 contributor: ShariK.Green tmc
I'm the Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager for I write, direct and produce short films with my production company, Good Stew Productions. Though it's difficult to answer this question when asked, I'd say my favorite movie is “The Big Chill.” I enjoy photography, poetry, and hiking and I adore animals, especially elephants. I live in Arizona and feel it's an outstanding and inspirational place to live.

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