TIFF 2023: Alexander Payne Directs Paul Giamatti in an Instant Modern Christmas Classic “The Holdovers”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

We always aim to set the highest standards for ourselves and for others. Our goal is to embody compassion, empathy, and simply be genuinely good-hearted individuals. We should refrain from making hasty judgments and ensure we validate all the facts before drawing conclusions. Are we those individuals? Do we genuinely prioritize the well-being of others over our own, or are we simply selfish beings transiently passing through life without leaving a mark?

Set in 1971, Professor Hunham, portrayed by Paul Giamatti, at Barton Boarding School strictly adheres to one rule: the young men of Barton must always uphold honesty. He doesn’t hesitate to assign poor grades when necessary, and his unwavering standards sometimes make him genuinely unpopular among his students. However, beneath his strict exterior lies a generous and kind-hearted soul, a fact his students may not initially grasp.

As Christmas approaches in 1971, Professor Hunham, due to his demeanor and stringent rules, is tasked with overseeing students who cannot return home for the holidays. Among them is Angus, portrayed with captivating depth by Dominic Sessa—a 15-year-old whose personality is a perfect match for Professor Hunham’s sternness. At first, they clash and engage in heated verbal exchanges. However, with time, they come to respect each other, forging a strong bond that helps them discover their strengths and weaknesses, their shared human generosity, and their soft hearts.

Written by David Hemingson and directed by Alexandre Payne, “The Holdovers” is the most heartwarming film of the year. It evokes the spirit of “It’s a Wonderful Life” throughout. Despite the predictability of the story, it fully immerses you, allowing you to witness the subtle, profound connection developing between two individuals. The writing is exceptional from start to finish, prompting introspection about our own standards as human beings and challenging us to raise them. The question of whether we are good enough or can be better lingers as we watch the film. It quickly becomes apparent that Professor Hunham is not as unlikable as he may initially seem. He may be stern and uncompromising, but he refuses to engage in political games. It doesn’t matter whether his students are the children of senators; he steadfastly adheres to his principles of dignity and honesty, values that should always be upheld.

“The Holdovers” is beautifully written, directed, and acted, destined to become an instant Christmas classic to enjoy with your adult children. We all need a beacon of hope, someone to guide us, an individual who is unfailingly honest and even emotional. Such a person can lead us from darkness to light. While it may not always reflect reality, “The Holdovers” will inspire you to believe even more in the inherent goodness of humanity. The first step toward that belief is to begin with ourselves, our loved ones, and our own actions.

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