The Holdovers: Teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) forms an understanding with a troublesome student (Dominic Sessa) when forced to stay at their boarding school over Christmas.

Release Date - 19th January, Cert - 15, Run-time - 2 hours 13 minutes, Director - Alexander Payne

In the months since I first watched it The Holdovers has quietly grown on me more and more. Nothing more so than the fractured characters growing an understanding of each other through their isolation. “Adversity builds character, Mr Tully” boarding school teacher Paul Hunham says after his class has failed a key exam just before Christmas. It’s a break that he’ll be spending at the school, learning the truth of his words, with troublesome student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), when forced to stay behind to look after the students with nowhere to go over the holiday.

Tensions are high between the pair, especially after Angus’ uncontactable family have left him alone at the last minute, is closed off and distant. Whether lonely, angry or experiencing grief and loss - school cook Mary (a standout Da’Vine Joy Randolph) has recently lost her son in the Vietnam War - there’s a warmth created as they gradually come together. It’s with these kind of characters that Alexander Payne has long best succeeded.

Emotions rise and fall with growing understanding as one figure struggles to control his emotions while the other hides behind a curmudgeonly persona, with Mary acting as something of the midway between the pair. All three performances are flourished with tenderness and heart. As the trio sit down for Christmas dinner the moment is simply allowed to exist. The hesitancy drops and the characters slowly draw together to be less alone on that day, and not just for the sake of being alone.

As mentioned, Payne works best with these kind of characters. Complex, natural depictions of humanity - including Giamatti’s midlife crisis in 2004’s Sideways - with hints of sharp wit throughout. David Hemingson’s script provides Giamatti with plethora of hilarious insults, at one point referring a restaurant as a “fascist hash-foundry.” It’s easy to buy into the developing bonds on-screen, propelled by the warm wintry tones of the closing days of the year.

While humour is very much still present as the film progresses, with different focuses instead of a new style as there’s less antagonism between Paul and Angus, the emotional beats are brought out more. Over time you grow closer to the characters; feel their disappointment, sadness and even loneliness. The parts of their personalities that they’re struggling to hide as they push the rest of the world away.

There’s a very considered nature to the ways in which these characters are written and performed. Filled with subtle details, hints and twitches which make for an even more engaging character-led piece. One which makes for a simple, unflashy depiction of humanity. Distanced figures coming together when they most need an extended arm. The Holdovers extends such an arm of warm understanding to both its characters and the audience.

Jamie Skinner, four stars ****