The Holdovers (2023) – Review

Let the “The Holdovers” be your family in what’s possibly my favorite movie this year.


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“The Holdovers” General Information

Director Alexander Payne
Screenplay By David Hemingson 
Based On N/A
Date Released (In Theaters) November 10, 2023
Genre(s) Comedy

Drama

Film Length 2 Hours, 13 Minutes
Content Rating Rated R
Noted Characters and Cast
Paul Hunham Paul Giamatti
Angus Tully Dominic Sessa
Mary Lamb Da’Vine Joy Randolph

“The Holdovers” Film Summary

“The Holdovers” is a scruffy but sweet, ragged yet tender film for anyone who has faced grief or loneliness. Director Alexander Payne and writer David Hemingson’s winter tale speaks to the bitterness in our hearts and the disarming way that people still open us up and create unforgettable bonds. 

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During the winter break of December 1970, history teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is forced to remain on campus and watch over the students who are not going home for the holiday. Mr. Hunham is known as a strict, merciless teacher who isn’t afraid to fail the most privileged student. This tendency has made him unsocial with students and staff alike. Student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), is abandoned by his parents to spend the holiday at school with his most unliked teacher. Angus sees his life as the worst punishment ever. The only other person at the boarding school is the cafeteria chef, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a grieving mother who is spending the first holiday without her son. 

“The Holdovers” depicts three people at their darkest, most lonesome time in their lives. The Christmas holiday and New Year only amplify their sadness and how each of them wishes to be somewhere else with someone else. But through the tears and anger, their roles as teacher, student, and staff begin to shed, and they start seeing each other as humans. You may predict the turn coming, but the path to Paul, Angus, and Mary bonding is earned, painful, and absolutely beautiful. 

“The Holdovers” can make you laugh aloud, cry, and hopefully smile through it all. Director Alexander Payne credits the cast and crew for the film, and they should all be applauded. “The Holdovers” is an excellent movie to nourish any lonely heart. 

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Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti star in “The Holdovers” (dir. Alexander Payne, 2023)

Content Rating Explanation

“The Holdovers” is Rated R due to profanity, smoking, drinking, some violence, and mild sexual content. 

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member.

Paul Hunham

As a history teacher, Paul Hunham is constantly quoting Roman times and comparing current struggles to the struggles in the Roman Empire. He has trouble with social cues, has no interest in them, and doesn’t mind being the most disliked person in order to uphold his personal code of integrity.  

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Billions.”

Angus Tully

Angus is a gifted student but often a troublemaker at any school he attends. He’s been held back and isn’t afraid to start a fight, but what Angus really needs is an adult to support and believe in him. 

Mary Lamb

Mary is the caring yet grieving head cook at the boarding school’s cafeteria. While she sees most of the students as dumb, privileged kids, her own son once attended the school, and she was proud of the education he received. But due to her son’s recent death in Vietnam, Mary is overwhelmed by the memories of her child on her first holiday without him.

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Only Murders in the Building.”
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(l-r.) Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully, Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb and Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

Collected Quote(s)

“Life is like a henhouse ladder. S***** and short.” 

“I find the world a bitter and complicated place. And it seems to feel the same way about me. You and I have that in common, I think.”

Other Noteworthy Information

  1. Alexander Payne had Paul Giamatti specifically in mind for the role of Mr. Hunham. 
  2. This is Dominic Sessa’s film debut. 

Discussion Items

Let us know your thoughts in the comments:

  1. What did you think of “The Holdovers?” What did you enjoy, or what could have been better?

Review


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Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing): Recommended 

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Paul Giamatti telling you to see “The Holdovers”

Notable Performances or Moments

Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph Will Make the Room Laugh and Weep

What makes “The Holdovers” especially moving are the performances in the film. You don’t watch it thinking, “This is a good performance.” You watch it, shaking your head and smiling as Paul cites another example of the Roman Empire; you ache as Mary takes another drink at the Christmas party; you feel for these people you barely know. Giamatti and Randolph balance the pain and joy in these characters with precision that makes these people whole, and they convey that while there are hopeless times, we still have hope for them. 

Highlights

The Immersive 1970s Film Aesthetic

From the film grain reminiscent of older movies to the warm acoustic guitar of Damien Jarudo, one way “The Holdovers” immerses the audience in its time period is by replicating the filmmaking of its time period. Fuzzy wide shots, crash zooms, and grainy footage pull viewers into the 1970s and never make a mockery of the time, but instead inform us how the times impact our protagonists.

The Bond Between the Three Feels Earned and Fresh

Based on the synopsis, you may know where “The Holdovers” is going. There’s a whole genre of movies featuring unlikely bonds, but “The Holdovers” finds new ways to bring people together and care for each other without being cloying or sentimental. Due to great performances and excellent writing, “The Holdovers” makes us hopeful for connection without compromising the individuality of any of its characters.

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Let Angus (Dominic Sessa), Mr. Hunham (Paul Giamatti), and Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) be your family this holiday.

On The Fence

The Runtime May Make You Question Necessity of Certain Scenes

At a certain point, I just enjoyed seeing these people together. I didn’t mind watching characters bowl or celebrating the New Year, but at 2 hours and 13 minutes, I know someone might get restless and wonder what’s the point of it all. While there are scenes that don’t serve the plot, they do serve the relationships within the story. 

Who Is This For?

People who enjoy character studies or feel lonely for the holidays might enjoy “The Holdovers.”

Recommendations

If you like this movie, we recommend:

  1. Sideways
  2. Good Will Hunting
  3. Saving Mr. Banks

Check out our movies page for our latest movie reviews and recommendations.

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The Holdovers (2023) – Review
Overall
“The Holdovers” can make you laugh aloud, cry, and hopefully smile through it all. Director Alexander Payne credits the cast and crew for the film, and they should all be applauded. “The Holdovers” is an excellent movie to nourish any lonely heart. 
Highlights
The Immersive 1970s Film Aesthetic
The Bond Between the Three Feels Earned and Fresh
Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph Will Make the Room Laugh and Weep
Disputable
90

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