Director Alexander Payne will appear in person for a Q&A after the screening.
Barton men don’t lie. This is just one of the many rules Professor Hunham (Paul Giamatti) takes much too seriously as he hands out poor grades at an elite boarding school in 1971. As he dismisses the politics that come along with educating the children of people in high places, he’s punished by the headmaster who gives him a most undesirable assignment for the winter break: to stay at the school and supervise the students who are unable to go home.
Hunham resolves to have the students suffer with him, forcing them to start studying next semester’s curriculum ahead of time. Among them, 15-year-old Angus (Dominic Sessa), bright but belligerent, makes a ruckus. Teacher and student become foes, antagonizing one another and tiring themselves out, as Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school cafeteria manager, observes from the sidelines, herself alone after recently losing her son in the Vietnam War. As the petulant pair succumb to the depressing truth that they’ve got little else but each other this holiday season, Professor Hunham starts to soften up and they begin to see themselves in one another.
Giamatti gives a career-high performance as the risible teacher who delights in doling out punishment, while newcomer Sessa makes an immediate name for himself, revealing layers of complexity to his character’s rebellious nature. With THE HOLDOVERS, director Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS, NEBRASKA) makes a delicate point about how a first impression never tells the whole truth and shows that the pains and tragedies that feel specific to us actually make us a lot more alike than unalike.
—Jane Schoettle, Toronto International Film Festival guide