Like all your favourite films from the ‘70s and ‘80s, The Holdovers is a film you want to live in. Earnestly dedicated to its aesthetic of warm, grainy colours, old Christmas songs, imperfect camerawork, and pipe smoke curling around leather chairs, The Holdovers imitates the films of the ‘70s with such respect and perfection, you’d think Peter Wier directed it.
The story takes place at Barton Academy in New England, a boarding school for teenage boys that evokes the Dead Poets Society, in December of 1970. Paul Giamatti gives an endearing performance of the mercilessly strict – yet eventually loveable – Classics professor Paul Hunhame, which earned him a nomination for Best Actor in the 2024 Oscars. Hunham is hung with the duty of babysitting the few students staying at Barton over the holidays (the ‘holdovers’), including one particularly surly teenager, Angus Tully, played by newcomer Dominic Sessa. While the other holdovers are rescued from hours of studying and exercising with Hunham by one of their parents, Tully is forced to remain at Barton with him and the school’s cafeteria chef, Mary Lamb (portrayed by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, nominated for Best Supporting Actress). The unconventional trio find themselves stuck together for the holidays and, like all the best movies of the era, find a new family in each other. While Hunham learns the values of empathy and compassion, Tully battles with his relationship with his parents and Lamb faces her grief over the passing of her son.
The holiday season, with its kitschy glass ornaments, twinkle lights, and cherries jubilee, is the perfect stage in which the intricate mentalities and emotions of the characters are played out. Sessa gives a candid and sincere performance of Tully and both Randolph and Giamatti fully deserve their Oscar nominations. The film commits to the conventions of vintage films so sincerely; it never feels contrived or mocking. From the soundtrack, including throwbacks like Labi Siffre, The Temptations, and Cat Stevens, to the retro film studio logos at the beginning, The Holdovers is richly nostalgic and wholly comforting. You can feel the dedication and heart that went into this film from those involved both on-screen and off, testified by its Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, and Film Editing. The Holdovers has established itself as a new Christmas classic, best watched either with family or when you’re in need of family.
“Da’Vine Joy Randolph The Holdovers Q&A BFI Southbank, January 2024” by Raph_PH is licensed under CC BY 2.0.