music friday: 1976
creature features: the invisible man (james whale, 1933)

the holdovers (alexander payne, 2023)

Paul Giamatti is one of our best actors, and in The Holdovers, he teams up again with Alexander Payne ... the two made Sideways together. I've liked most of the Payne movies I have seen (exception: About Schmidt). There's an Oscar-nominated performance from Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Giamatti is also nominated), and an excellent debut from young newcomer Dominic Sessa. Payne and his team, including cinematographer Eigil Bryld, took great care to recreate not just the look of 1970, but the look of films made in 1970. There is a lot of impressive work going on in The Holdovers, work you can see as you are watching.

So why didn't I like it all that much? I feel bad criticizing it ... I wouldn't be surprised if it won an Oscar or two, and I imagine it's crowd pleasing (watching it might become one of those annual Xmas traditions). I feel as curmudgeonly as the prep school teacher Giamatti plays in the film.

And I might have hit on my problem with The Holdovers, one that is entirely on me. I didn't like Giamatti's teacher ... at the beginning, at least, we aren't supposed to like him. But part of my dislike had less to do with how the character is written and more to do with the ways he reminded me of the negative aspects of myself. It's a standard Your Mileage May Vary. No one else should take my reaction to the film as anything beyond personal.

Beyond my subjective response, the script by David Hemingson (also nominated for an Oscar) is too formulaic. You know that somehow the teacher will be redeemed by the end of the movie. Certain specifics about the lives of characters are withheld until they can have the maximum impact, which isn't how life works. (The teacher has a secret from his past, Sessa's student has a troubled history with his family.) Everything moves along in an efficient way, but I never believed any of these characters were real people, yet I felt we were supposed to be responding to them as if they were authentic.

So I can imagine an audience for The Holdovers, even an audience that will return to the film frequently over the years. But I don't need to see it again.


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