Alexander Payne brings the 1970s to the big screen in his latest film, “The Holdovers,” with a wide release on Nov. 10.

Set at the fictional Barton Academy, the film follows lonely, old-fashioned Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), a teacher who is assigned to look after students “held over” at school over the holidays. In a slow exploration of friendship, loneliness and loss, the film documents his connection to Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a student held over for winter break, and Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the cook at Barton Academy. What emerges is a beautiful contemplation of the small interactions between very distinct individuals, though not without occasional contrived moments.

“The Holdovers” opens with a portrait of Barton Academy — a school for wealthy boys destined for the Ivy Leagues regardless of their intellectual merit. Paul is introduced as a conservative teacher who takes pride in Barton’s history and believes that failing his students will build their character. When he is assigned hold over duty for the winter, he holds his group of boys to a strict schedule — exercise, studying and only a bit of leisure time, despite the holidays coming soon.

The point of tension comes from Angus, a troubled teen whose mother and stepfather have chosen to go on their honeymoon instead of having him home for Christmas. After four other boys leave campus for a family vacation, only Paul, Mary and Angus remain. Paul struggles to keep Angus in his sights as Angus protests his regulations. Arguably, this is where the film really begins.

“The Holdovers” truly shines in its performances and cinematography. Perhaps the strongest of the cast, Giamatti excels as Paul. He realistically conveys Paul’s complex character as an uptight yet caring man who deals with depression, lifelong regrets and unspoken alcoholism. Sessa also puts out a strong showing as mischievous yet caring Angus. Randolph brings depth to the film as well with her portrayal of Mary, a mother grieving her son who was killed in the Vietnam War.

Furthermore, the opening credits feature 1970s film studio logos, as though the movie were truly released in 1970. The warm color palette, retro film grain and slow fades embody the quiet, introspective spirit of the film as well. Shots of characters walking across the snowy Barton campus, trekking through the woods and driving down New England roads are a visual delight.

However, the film does have some inconsistencies, unnecessary moments and contrived plot points. The beginning portion featuring four other “held over” boys seems unnecessary — if only Angus were left behind initially, the film would get started quicker. Furthermore, Paul bumping into his Harvard classmate in Boston reads as a contrived method to bring up Paul’s past schooling and insecurities. Angus’ observation of the snow globe, too, lacks personal meaning to him or his father, and only serves to facilitate a later conflict.

Moreover, the dialogue in the film is inconsistent. At one point, the dialogue sounds natural and meaningful. At the next, it sounds like characters feeding exposition to the audience rather than dialogue. As realistic as the film feels at times, sometimes the writers’ choices feel like cop-outs for the story to reach the next plot point.

Despite these concerns, the film offers a historically grounded yet more modern take on the “Dead Poets Society”-esque story. Privilege and class are discussed heavily in the beginning of the film, setting this film apart from an idealized version of private school.

The aesthetics, atmosphere and sentimentality of this film are what make “The Holdovers” really special. Viewers who prefer fast-paced, less rambling pieces may walk away somewhat dissatisfied with the film, while fans of slow, visually pleasing movies will look past the inconsistencies. “The Holdovers” is a bittersweet, sentimental and at times funny film — and a visual masterpiece all around.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars