Actor Paul Giamatti and filmmaker Alexander Payne reunite after almost 20 years for The Holdovers, a Christmas-time tale of a trio of unlikely companions that premiered at the London Film Festival on Wednesday (Oct 11).
Giamatti, who appeared in Payne’s 2004 Oscar-winning movie Sideways, plays Paul Hunham, a teacher of ancient history at a high-status New England boarding school for boys. Much to his dismay, the cranky, unpopular academic is tasked with looking after “the holdovers”, a handful of students with nowhere to go, over the 1970 winter break.
The only other adult on the empty, closed-off campus is the academy’s head cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who has recently lost her son in Vietnam.
After getting off to a disastrous start, the two-week break turns into an invigorating experience for Hunham, Mary and troubled student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa).
The role of Hunham in the comedy-drama was created specifically for Giamatti.
“I’ve been saying this for 20 years since Sideways, he can make even bad dialogue work, so give him good dialogue and it’s even better,” Payne, 62, said of Giamatti, who did not attend the London premiere due to the actors’ strike.
The Holdovers was written by David Hemingson, who thought he was being prank called when Payne contacted him “out of the blue” after reading a pilot script about his time at a prep school.
“This is my childhood, kind of pushed through the sieve of slightly different circumstances. It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done,” said Hemingson.
Payne, whose previous films include Downsizing, The Descendants and Election, said he wanted to tell an entertaining story that looks and feels like a movie made in 1970.
“I like making comedies, but comedies that hopefully make you think a little bit, too.”
The Holdovers is out in US cinemas this November and will be released globally in early 2024.