The Holdovers is an offbeat comedic story of a mismatched pair. In 1970, 17-year-old Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) learns he unexpectedly must stay at boarding school over the winter holidays. On top of that, Angus must share this sentence with several students he doesn’t particularly like. But the absolute worst part is the teacher assigned to chaperone the crew is Paul Hunnam (Paul Giamatti). Hunnam, the school’s classics instructor, is notorious for being incredibly strict and uptight. Instead of letting the students enjoy their vacation, he soon sets up a rigorous schedule of learning with little room for fun or frivolity. Tully and Hunnam clash immediately, making it very clear that neither of them wants to be in their current situation.
What works in The Holdovers is the incredibly rich performances thanks to an impeccable script, and fantastic production design. This is Sessa’s first on-screen role, but you’d never know it given how effortlessly he holds his own against Giamatti. The two sizzle as they play a game of wits while also slowly learning from each other. The glue between them is Da’Vine Joy Randolph playing Mary Lamb, the school’s chef who also remains on campus. Randolph is sublime as a grieving mother who takes absolutely no nonsense while spreading endless empathy. Every word of David Hemingson lean script has intentionality as it navigates through humor and heartache with aplomb. Finally, director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) uses the snowy New England setting, coupled with the early 70s aesthetic, to produce absolutely gorgeous visuals.
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People who don’t enjoy coming-of-age dramas may not enjoy The Holdovers as much as others. The film focuses on tough topics like familial acceptance and loss that might be heavy for some, especially around the holidays. Also, The Holdovers has quite a bit of course (but not vulgar) language. Finally, when setting a film in the 1970s, it comes with some unfortunate reminders of the civil inequities of the time. The handling of these elements, however accurate, may make some uncomfortable.
The Holdovers is a fabulous film that will likely receive a lion’s share of Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The movie feels fresh and familiar at the same time. It is accessible and relatable, but also lovingly reminds one of a previous era of film. Considering the incredible work by the ensemble, its warm heart, and the pure entertainment, The Holdovers comes very highly recommended.
Recommended if you Enjoyed: Scent of a Woman, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society
The Holdovers is now available in theaters and streaming on Vudu.