Review: The Holdovers


It’s 1970. Richard Nixon is president and despite his “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war, it is still raging.

Most of the students at Barton Academy, a Massachusetts prep school, are about to leave on a two-week Christmas break. However, five have nowhere to go. They are “The Holdovers” and will remain on campus under the direction of detested ancient civilizations teacher, Paul Hunman (Paul Giamatti – “Billions”). Also remaining on duty is Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph – “The Lost City”), the head cook and mother of a recent graduate who has just been killed in that detested war.

At first, it appears that this is going to be a miserable two weeks for all concerned, but then one of the kids’ father swoops in with his corporate helicopter to take all but one of the boys off on a holiday adventure. That leave Hunman and Lamb with trouble-making student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa).

Director Alexander Payne and writer David Hemingson have given us a whimsical, gentle character study into three damaged people who find a strange, healing kinship in those two wintry weeks.

Paul Hunman, walleyed and odorous, is a rigid taskmaster. His devotion to his concept of perfection and to upholding the traditions of Benton Academy have made him a target of derision among both his students and his fellow faculty.

Mary Lamb held her job at Benton to make sure her son could attend school there. But when he graduated, unlike his wealthy peers, he couldn’t afford college and ended up joining the Army and being sent to his death while the others, with their college deferments, went safely to Harvard and Yale.

Angus Tully, child of a broken marriage and detesting his wealthy stepfather has become a rebel, moving from one school to another. If he’s expelled from Barton, his last chance will be a military academy – and then the war.

These three suffer and learn together over this short wintry period, changing for the better as we watch.

This quiet film features amazing, human performances from all three principals. The cinematography takes us realistically through the deserted school, the wintry countryside, and the nearby small town where folks are very different from the rarefied residents of Barton.

While taking place over the Christmas season, this is not a Christmas movie, per se. Nor is it a “coming of age” film, or a romance of some sort. It could have taken place at any time of the year and among any small set of people of disparate backgrounds, finding themselves thrown together. What it is, however, is a film about personal growth, even later in life, that comes from recognizing the humanity that dwells within each other.

If you are looking for torrid interpersonal relationships, action or adventure, this film is not for you, and at two hours-plus it is an investment. But for those who appreciate good story telling, “The Holdovers” is well worth the time spent.

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