May 19, 2024

‘The Holdovers:’ Alexander Payne’s latest film is a modern holiday classic for broken souls

“I like being alone.”

Photo by Charlie Rinehart. A framed poster of The Holdovers located inside Drexel.

On Oct. 29, select theaters held a sneak preview of Alexander Payne’s latest film, “The Holdovers,” before its official release on Nov. 10.

While Bexley’s local Drexel Theatre also plays mainstream movies, it is best known for playing restorations of classics and indie movies. It was no surprise that Drexel was one of the select theaters to play the sneak preview of “The Holdovers.”

“The Holdovers” is Payne’s first film in six years. The film follows a student, Angus, who is forced to remain at his boarding school over winter break. The strict Mr. Hunham, played by Paul Giamatti, along with Mary, the school’s cook, are both required to also stay at the school to take care of Angus. Over the course of the movie, a unique relationship forms between the three of them. 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway viewers will get from “The Holdovers” is how much it feels like a film from the era in which it takes place: 1970. Although the set design, wardrobe (tweed and corduroy as far as the eye can see) and script are carefully crafted to reflect the 1970s, the cinematography is what fully immerses the audience into the era.

Although “The Holdovers” was shot digitally, the added grain effect makes it look as though it was shot on the same type of cameras and film stocks that would have been used in movies like “Harold and Maude,” “American Graffiti” and “Five Easy Pieces,” easily fooling audience members to believe it was shot on film and, were it not for Paul Giamatti, believing it was actually made in 1970.

Along with looking like the 1970s, the film also sounds like the 1970s. Unlike how they achieved the look of the film, “The Holdovers” was actually filmed using 1970s microphones, and it is obvious from the second the film starts. The sound has the sharpness of monophonic recordings and the soft hiss and crackle of vintage recordings.

Beside the internal sound of the film, the soundtrack is also well-crafted to fit the period and the content. The songs include late-1960s and early-1970s songs like “Venus” by Shocking Blue, “No Matter What” by Badfinger and “The Wind” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens. However, there are also songs featured in the movie that were released only a few years ago, like “Silver Joy” by Damien Jurado and a very unexpected Khruangbin needle drop, “A Calf Born in Winter,” which was a welcome surprise. Despite the fact that modern songs were used in a period piece, a move that may be frowned upon, their use adds immensely to the vintage feel of the film.

The film is also heavily layered with classic Christmas songs throughout the entire runtime, with a mix of familiar, nostalgic versions like Andy Williams’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”  and some unfamiliar recordings like The Swingle Singers version of “White Christmas” and Chet Baker’s version of “The Christmas Song.”

More impressive, however, than the technical aspects of the film is the film itself. The troubling relationship between Mr. Hunham and Angus is similar to what we have seen in other Payne films, like “Election,” “Sideways” (the first Payne-Giamatti collaboration) and “Nebraska,” but “The Holdovers” does it the best. 

Everyone in “The Holdovers,” including the less important characters, feel completely real. Although the “broken” character and the “mean” teacher are characters we have seen time and time again, it is Dominic Sessa’s and Paul Giamatti’s performances that make the characters feel unique and original. Perfect line delivery and facial expressions are carefully crafted to fit every word of every line.

“The Holdovers”  is one of the best movies of the year, so far. The comedic aspects and heartwarming moments make it a new holiday classic.


  • Charlie Rinehart

    Charlie is a first-year Creative Writing major. In his free time he enjoys drinking iced coffee and watching terrible horror movie sequels.

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