Paul (Paul Giamatti), an aging classics professor at an elite New England prep school, is at odds with his students. His rigidly judgmental teaching methods are, to say the least, outdated. When he is thrown together for a long Christmas break with Angus (Dominic Sessa), a smart, charismatic and self-destructive teen, and Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school’s grieving cook, we enter territory that reminds us of John Hughes’ THE BREAKFAST CLUB. But, David Hemingson’s nuanced script has much more in mind. Giamatti is effortlessly commanding from the start, and Sessa and Randolph are outstanding. In ABOUT SCHMIDT, SIDEWAYS, NEBRASKA and THE DESCENDANTS (HIFF 2012) director Alexander Payne proved himself a master in depicting isolated people forced to confront their fears and illusions. Here, his uncanny grasp of the minute particulars of everyday conflict reaches new depths of both comedy and pain, in a blend reminiscent of Hal Ashby’s finest works. It''s a return to form for Payne, especially as THE HOLDOVERS will spark a lot of awards conversation for the main cast.