“That makes me a little disgusted”


  • Director Alexander Payne feels uncomfortable with the title of his film. The leftoversis cozy and healthy, but understands the sentiment behind it.
  • Payne explains that his intention was to tell a story about real human connections, not to make a wholesome film.
  • Despite the film’s Christmas setting, Payne does not see it as a Christmas film, but rather as a story about loneliness and the meaning of found family. He’s grateful that viewers connect with the characters on an emotional level.

director Alexander Payne says he feels uncomfortable and doesn’t like the label some have given his latest film, The leftovers. Set in Christmas 1970, the film centers on disgruntled history teacher Paul (Paul Giamatti) at the all-boys boarding school Barton Academy, who must supervise a group of students, including the rebellious Angus (Dominic Sessa), who cannot return home for the holidays. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Carrie Preston, Gillian Vigman and Tate Donovan also star in the film.

After reading reviews from fans and critics, Payne noticed that some viewed his film as “cozy” and wholesome. Payne sat down in an interview to discuss his complicated feelings about the label (via IndieWire).

“‘Oh, it’s like a cozy movie or a warm hug or like putting on a sweater and drinking hot cocoa on a cold day.’ Sometimes it makes me a little nauseous. I definitely feel a certain comfort when I watch a Bob Rafelson or Hal Ashby film from that era. So on that level I can understand it. I’ve heard or read it a few times and I’m not entirely sure what to think about it. Whether I’m meant to be complimented or insulted. Not offended, but you know what I mean.

Payne explained that the original premise and inspiration for the script during pre-production was based on the fact that suicide rates increase during the holidays and New Year’s. He goes on to say that it wasn’t his intention to make such a wholesome film, but that he just wanted to tell a story about people and real human connections. However, the director suggests that the combination of the nostalgic 1970s film grain aesthetic and realistic characters may have created the “cozy” feeling.

“I thought I’d just make a decent film about people. What felt cozy or warm to you? Is it the texture of the film or the quality of the human relationships portrayed? What was it?” […] We can talk about two things. Perhaps one of these is the quality that with new knowledge we can break through our natural assumptions about others. That everyone has a story. You meet someone, you make certain assumptions, fair or unfair, mostly unfair. But the more you get to know the person, the more you see the humanity behind them. And if there is a feeling in this film that apparently very different people can discover a common humanity over time – that’s a beautiful thing. However, I wouldn’t necessarily use the word comfortable. Why do you use the word cozy?”

Related: Best Paul Giamatti Movies, Ranked

Payne wants viewers to focus on themes rather than aesthetics

Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers
Focus functions

Although the film is set during the Christmas season, the 62-year-old director makes it clear that Christmas is merely a backdrop to tell a story about loneliness and the meaning of finding family.

“I’m not trying to be disingenuous here. I just don’t see it as a Christmas movie. It’s a film that by its nature could only play at Christmas and in that sense it’s melancholic, here are these guys who have nowhere to go at a time when you’re supposed to be with family. Automatically there is a melancholic background. The beauty of it is how the three main characters find a way to be together during this time when they really should be with family. With all that being said, it just seems like a Christmas movie formula, but I just didn’t see it that way. I read some early reviews like, “Oh, people are going to watch this every Christmas.” I’m like, “Really? Great.” But I didn’t think about that.

While Payne doesn’t agree with the label “comfortable,” he is happy and grateful that viewers connect with the characters on an emotional and human level.

“I’m happy when people say that they were touched by this or that aspect and that it made them think about something. I hate feeling manipulated in films, but you still want to have emotional effects. How do you calibrate this? It’s encouraging that some of these things seem to be working.”

The leftovers is currently playing in select US theaters. Check out our review featuring Jericho Tadeo here The leftovers as “One of the best films of the year”.

Charles Jones

Charles Jones is a WSTNewsPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Charles Jones joined WSTNewsPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: charlesjones@wstnewspost.com.

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