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Alexander Payne, Paul Giamatti Set ‘Sideways’ Reunion with Prep School Comedy ‘The Holdovers’

Payne's first film since 2017's "Downsizing" is going to be shopped to distributors at the Cannes market.

SIDEWAYS, Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, 2004. TM and ©Fox Searchlight. All rights reserved./Courtesy Everett Collection


©Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

Academy Award-winning writer/director Alexander Payne is set to reunite with his “Sideways” star Paul Giamatti for the upcoming comedy “The Holdovers,” set to be shopped at the virtual Cannes market. The film is written by David Hemingson, scribe and creator of the series “Whiskey Cavalier,” among other television projects. Mark Johnson is producing the film. Production will begin early next year in New England.

Here’s the film’s synopsis, according to Deadline, which first reported the news: “Giamatti plays a universally disliked teacher at the prep school Deerfield Academy. His non-fans include his students, fellow faculty and headmaster who all find his pomposity and rigidity exasperating. With no family and nowhere to go over Christmas holiday in 1970, Paul remains at school to supervise students unable to journey home. After a few days, only one student holdover remains — a trouble-making 15-year-old named Angus, a good student undermined by bad behavior that always threatens to get him expelled. Joining Paul and Angus is Deerfield’s head cook Mary — an African American woman who caters to sons of privilege and whose own son was recently lost in Vietnam. These three very different shipwrecked people form an unlikely Christmas family, sharing comic misadventures during two very snowy weeks in New England, and realizing that none of them are beholden to their past.”

Payne last worked with Giamatti on “Sideways,” the 2004 film which earned Giamatti a Best Actor Academy Award nomination and Payne an Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay.

“I came across a writing sample for a pilot set in a prep school by David Hemingson,” Payne told Deadline. “I called him, told him the idea and he jumped at it. Ever since I worked with Paul in ‘Sideways,’ I’ve wanted to work with him again, and this role is tailor made for him. I continue to think now as I did then… I hate to use the term the finest actor of his generation because there are so many wonderful actors. But when I worked with him on ‘Sideways’ I was astounded by his range. As a director you want actors who can make even bad dialogue work, and he can do that. He can just do anything. I think it’s a matter of time before he gets his Oscar.”

Payne added, “The story focuses on one kid in particular, a real smart ass troublemaker, who’s 15 years old and a good kid underneath. His widowed mother has recently married a rich guy and she wants to use this vacation as her honeymoon. At the last minute she breaks the kid’s heart and tells him he has to stay at the school. Selected this year [to watch the stranded students ] is Paul Giamatti, this curmudgeonly walleyed disliked history teacher. Eventually, the other three or four boys find other places to go and it becomes a two-hander, but actually a three-hander because of the cook who stays behind and it becomes about the adventures of these three over a very snowy Christmas holiday in New England.”

Payne’s last film was 2017’s “Downsizing.” He also earned an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 2011’s “The Descendants.”

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