Review: The Holdovers (2023)

Review: The Holdovers (2023)

Since one month isn’t enough to contain all of the movies I want to watch, I’m extending my Christmas movie watching a few months more, if not year round because why not? In this installment, I’m checking out a darling of the critics, THE HOLDOVERS.

The setup for the movie is straightforward. At the Barton Academy, a prep school in New England, not every student gets to go home for Christmas vacation. Instead, they stay at school and are supervised by one of the faculty. After another teacher begs off of it, hardass but fair history teacher Mr. Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is tasked with watching over the kids. The group is a motley crew, led by Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), who doesn’t like Mr. Hunham very much and is feeling particularly mad that his mom and stepfather decided to change their plans and leave him at school instead of taking him to St. Kitts. Mr. Hunham isn’t the only adult there, as Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the cafeteria administrator who is mourning the loss of her son in Vietnam stays at the school to cook for them, and Danny the janitor is around too. 

After another of the holdovers has his father show up and take everyone but Angus to the mountains to ski, leaving him to deal with Mr. Hunham on his own. Will the two butt heads and end up killing each other, or will they bond and start a friendship in the lonely holiday season?

The story isn’t anything groundbreaking and pretty straightforward, but that works in its favor. Alexander Payne directs the hell out of a script by David Hemingson and the result is just magic. With the cast getting stripped down, there aren’t a lot of subplots that you need to worry about following. Instead it is just Mr. Hunham, Angus and Mary bonding during the holiday season. There isn’t much intrusion from the outside world at large, just them on the campus and in the small down. But it is that simplicity that draws you in and keep you watching. Well that and the wonderful performances from the cast.

I was only really familiar with Paul Giamatti from the cast, but everyone is just perfect in their roles. But they are all absolutely exceptional, toeing the line between the wry humor and the dramatic moments peppered throughout the script. Nothing is overwrought, and it’s more of a touching drama than a serious one. There are  no dark secrets to uncover, but there are some mysteries that unravel as the two men learn to trust each other.

The movie is very much filled with the holiday spirit, and we get to see some fantastic vintage decorations on display, along with some wood paneling that brings me back to my youth. But it’s also very much in the holiday spirit of bringing people together and opening your hearts and homes to them. It’s also about how rough the season can be on those who are lonely or have lost loved ones so there is nobody to celebrate with but the family they make. 

It’s a beautiful film, a sweet film and one that is ultimately about hope, that despite all the wrong turns and squandered days in your life, there is still a chance to make a difference and to start anew, no matter how old you are or aren’t. 

Check it out.