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The Holdovers (Movie Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film

SUMMARY

Director Alexander Payne coaxes some terrific performances out of his three principals--Paul Giamati, Dominic Sessa, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph in this small story of a teacher at a upper-crust male boarding school and his reluctant pupil who spend the Christmas holidays, "holding over" in Barton Academy.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Paul Giamati reunites with writer-director Alexander Payne (Sideways) in The Holdovers, a dramedy set during the 1970 Christmas holidays at Barton Academy, an all-male New England boarding school. Barton graduate Paul Hunham (Giamati), a history professor at his alma mater, has just received a tongue-lashing from the headmaster and his former student, Dr. Hardy Woodrup (Andrew Garman) for giving a wealthy senator’s son a poor grade that rescinded his admission to Princeton and lost donor money for Barton.

During the Christmas break, Hunham oversees five student “holdovers”  including Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) whose mother Judy (Gillian Vigman) canceled a family trip to honeymoon with her new husband, Stanley Clotfelter (Tate Donovan).  Also staying behind are cafeteria manager Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) whose soldier son Curtis, a Barton graduate, died in Vietnam, and janitor Danny (Naheem Garcia).

Six days into Hunham’s stringent student schedule of study and exercise, a holdover’s rich father arrives and flies four of the students to a ski resort, leaving Angus behind because he could not locate his mother to obtain permission to leave. The one-on-one relationship begins poorly for Hunham and Angus when the former catches the latter trying to book a hotel room. After an argument about the teacher’s policies, Angus runs through the school, falls on some gym equipment and dislocates his shoulder but  “reinvents” his injury story to exculpate Hunham.

  • Brady Hepner, Ian Dolley, Dominic Sessa, Michael Provost, and Jim Kaplan in The Holdovers (2023)
  • Paul Giamatti and Carrie Preston in The Holdovers (2023)
  • Da'Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers (2023)
  • Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers (2023)
  • Brady Hepner, Ian Dolley, Dominic Sessa, and Jim Kaplan in The Holdovers (2023)
  • Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers (2023)
  • 
Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers (2023)
  • Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers (2023)
  • The Holdovers (2023)

A Christmas party at the home of another Barton employee, Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston) goes awry when a sorrowful Mary gets drunk.  Hunham decides to leave early, disappointing  Angus who just met Lydia’s pretty niece Elise (Darby Lee-Stack). The two men argue and when the subject of Angus’s father surfaces, he informs Hunham that his father is dead. To cheer up the young man, Hunham arranges a “field trip” to Boston where he takes Angus ice skating and later reveals why he got expelled from Harvard and joined the Barton faculty. The dramatic crux of the film occurs when Hunham sees Agnus sneaking out of the theater where the pair a taking in a movie and joins up with him in a taxi ostensibly to visit the young man’s father. Hunham discovers that, rather than lying in a cemetery, Angus’s father Thomas (Stephen Thorne) is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. This unauthorized visit to Thomas leads to a post-holiday confrontation with Judy, Stanley, and Dr. Woodrup that will determine the fates of Hunham and Angus.

Giving Giamati a contact lens to make one eye appear amblyopic (“lazy eye”) is a deft touch to make his rigid character appear more vulnerable. Like his young co-star Sessa, Giamati’s film persona undergoes a major transformation during the holidays that leaves  both men better people at the break’s end.  Ms. Randolph is a very sympathetic character in her Oscar-winning performance as a mother still grieving for her dead  son. You can readily feel her pain at the Christmas party but later she becomes more optimistic about her future when she brings baby clothes to her pregnant sister.  The strong supporting cast provides an accurate depiction of this era’s societal norms that I remember quite well. Cinematographer Eigil Bryld’s period images, filmed at several prestigious New England prep schools, adds to the realism of the movie’s backdrop. Although his cinematic output is modest, Payne had already made highly acclaimed movies like The Descendants, Sideways, and Nebraska, an honor roll to which The Holdovers should now be added. Payne also succeeded in turning first-time big-screen writer David Hemingson’s modest story into a very creditable account of two men, decades apart in age, who ultimately bond to overcome their personal daemons. Certainly one of the best films of 2023 and one that is highly recommended.


The Holdovers is now streaming on various VOD platforms including Amazon Prime Video, VUDU, and Apple TV

Stream The Holdovers on Prime Video

Purchase The Holdovers on Blu-ray on Amazon.com


  • Rating Certificate: R (for language, some drug use, and brief sexual material, language)
  • Studios & Distributors: Miramax | Gran Via | CAA Media Finance | Focus Features
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English
  • Run Time: 133 Mins.
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Director: Alexander Payne
  • Written By: David Hemingson
  • Release Date: 27 October 2024
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Director Alexander Payne coaxes some terrific performances out of his three principals--Paul Giamati, Dominic Sessa, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph in this small story of a teacher at a upper-crust male boarding school and his reluctant pupil who spend the Christmas holidays, "holding over" in Barton Academy. The Holdovers (Movie Review)