The Holdovers Movie Review: Like Sriram Raghavan's fantastic Merry Christmas, Alexander Payne's The Holdovers lands in India on the wrong side of Xmas. I want to believe this warm, feel-good movie could have had an enhanced flavour in the run-up to the festival. Nevertheless, The Holdovers still has the potential to fill your heart with tenderness and has tremendous rewatch value (which is a rarity these days). Not to mention, Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph shine in the film, with a terrific acting debut from the young Dominic Sessa. Critics Choice Awards 2024: Paul Giamatti Secures Best Actor for The Holdovers.

What's The Holdovers About?

The Holdovers also invokes a sense of nostalgia, with the '70s setting playing a significant role as well as making the movie feel as if it is shot on film, even when it is made in digital format. Special mention also to the subtle yet enchanting score from Mark Orton. The Holdovers positions itself at a prestigious boarding school in New England, where Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) teaches literature. While he excels in his subject, his stringent teaching methods don't endear him to the students, but Hunham takes pleasure in antagonising them.

Watch the Trailer of The Holdovers:

The school is preparing for the Christmas holidays, with students leaving for their homes. However, some students, including Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), are forced to stay back at the boarding school as their families are unavailable during the holidays. They become the 'holdovers,' with Hunham (as a punishment) assigned to take care of them while the rest of the faculty also leave for the holidays. The only other adult living at the school is the cafeteria manager Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph).

Three's Company

While I expected The Holdovers to have Hunham and the 'holdovers' go through a frigid period before warming to each other, the movie surprises when most of the kids leave for a trip, leaving poor Tully to stay back alone. This reductive group dynamics work even better for the movie, allowing the three main characters - Hunham, Tully, and Lamb - to simmer sweetly together like a comforting bouillabaisse. This gives more room for them to develop their characters and rapport.

A Still From The Holdovers

The screenplay is filled with sweet and sour moments, from love's first stirrings and sweet kisses to heartbreaks and altercations, both physical and verbal, and endearing fellowship (my favourite scene is where Tully helps fake-boost Hunham's work resume in front of the latter's old school chum). The tale of unexpected friendship, in the shadow of loneliness that envelops the three leads at a time of togetherness, is predictable in its journey towards its destination but has enough to surprise you and even break your heart when needed. What works the best is how The Holdovers uses the routine narrative to make the relationship drama feel so accessible, and that happens thanks to the witty and effusive writing around the character relationships and the performances, which have always been a strength of Alexander Payne films. See SidewaysThe Descendants and Nebraska as past proof, and ignore the exceptionally disappointing Downsizing as an abomination.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph's Exceptional

While the focus is more on Hunham and Tully first bearing with each other before forming this temporary paternal camaraderie, Lamb doesn't feel left out of the equation. She is not just the balm between the two to heal their animosity, but she is also someone whose emotional scars haven't healed.

A Still From The Holdovers

Da'Vine Joy Randolph's finest acting moment in the movie comes when she has to reveal those scars in an emotional breakdown moment right on Christmas Eve. The actress also impresses in quieter moments, like the one she shares with her sister at the latter's apartment, making it clear why she is a top contender to win Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars 2024. Madame Web Movie Review: Dakota Johnson's Spider-Man Spinoff Gets Tangled In Its Own Inescapable Web of Mundanity.

Can Giamatti Beat Cillian Murphy at Oscars?

While Giamatti could end up being a hard pass at winning the Best Actor for which he was nominated, you feel bad because it's hardly his fault when his performance loses to the more talked-about (and equally deserving acts) Cillian Murphy. It is a truly compelling performance from the actor, who once gave his breakout performance in an older Alexander Payne movie - Sideways. Hunham is expected to start as this unlikeable person, who has to thaw like the snow after winter - while also revealing his own fears and insecurities in the process - and Giamatti does that transformation lucidly for the screen, even with that false eye (that comes with its own little mass moment in the end).

A Still From The Holdovers

Upsetting, however, is the dismissal of young Mr Sessa from the nominations for Best Supporting Actor (a fiercely contested category this year). Who would think this was his first acting gig, considering he goes toe-to-toe with Giamatti in several scenes and yet comes out of those without making a dent in his performance? A fantastic first-time performance on par with that of Edward Norton in Primal Fear and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious.

Final Thoughts on The Holdovers

The Holdovers charms with its warm and engaging bittersweet storytelling and wonderful performances from its lead cast. It may not aim for a completely happy ending, as most Alexander Payne films do, but as the credits roll, you can't help but feel that The Holdovers is like a comforting warm pie. Things may not go the way you expected them to, and yet you know that the characters are at peace with themselves and with each other by the end. And you are just happy about that!


(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Feb 16, 2024 10:03 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website