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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Holdovers (M) - 133 minutes

Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is an adjust professor of ancient history at an elite boarding institution that dates back to 1797.

 

He is strictly old school. That is, he has a tough love approach, but is determined to bring the best out of his students at Barton Academy in New England.

 

That puts him at odds with pupils, teachers and the school principal, Dr Hardy Woodrup (Andrew Garman).

 

It is 1970 and this Christmas he has been knowingly hoodwinked into “babysitting” boarders that haven’t been invited home for the holidays. 

With the heating turned off and snow all around, it promises to be cold and miserable festive season for those remaining at the facility.

 

All the more so, because Hunham intends to continue with regular school hours and schoolwork while “minding” the children.

 

Among them is Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a senior who has been kicked out of three schools.

 

He was a last minute “in”, after his mother remarried. Her focus is on her new man, at Angus’ expense, something he is far from happy with.

 

Angus still misses his father.

 

Angus also has frequent run-ins with another who is forced to stay back, Teddy Kountze (Brady Hepner), who is not the sharpest tool in the shed.

 

Another with them is one of the school’s football stars, Jason Smith (Michael Provost), who is laid back and in a standoff with his wealthy father.

 

To complete the quintet, two juniors – Korean youngster Ye-Joon Park (Jim Kaplan), who is missing family and friends, and Alex Ollerman (Ian Dolley) – join the fray.

 

Mind you, due to unforeseen circumstances, the “internment” of all but Angus is relatively short-lived.

Angus is left with the painstaking task of seeing his way through Christmas with just Mr Hunham and head cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) for company.

 

Lamb was pregnant when her husband died in a tragic accident before he turned 25.

 

Then recently, she lost her only child, Curtis – a Barton graduate – in the Vietnam War … and he wasn’t even 20.

 

The only other person occasionally appearing over the holiday season is the friendly school cleaner Danny (Naheem Garcia).


Mind you, Mr Hunham also unexpectedly bumps into the headmaster’s gregarious PA Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston), who is earning some extra cash at a bar.

 

Over ensuing days, despite their differences, Angus and Mr Hunham bond and we learn more about each of the key players.

While I was watching events unfold, I couldn’t help but think of the superb, Peter Weir-directed, Robin Williams’ comedic drama Dead Poets Society.

 

There are life lessons in The Holdovers for both teacher and student.

 

I loved the characterisations, led by the incomparable Paul Giamatti, perfectly cast as the cynical teacher and loner with a devastating tongue. Giamatti’s experience comes to the fore in one of the roles of his life.

 

Dominic Sessa is excellent, too, as the intelligent but fraught Angus, who fears the future. In his film debut, Sessa brings vulnerability to his portrayal.

 

It is also hard not to be impressed by the stoicism with which Da’Vine Joy Randolph imbues Mary Lamb, who has endured so much.

 

Carrie Preston gives the film a boost with her uplifting realisation of the principal’s buoyant assistant.

 

Written by David Hemingson, who cut his teeth as a TV series’ writer, The Holdovers is finely directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants).

The picture’s gentle pace is established from the get-go.

 

It is ably supported by lustrous cinematography from Eigil Byrld (In Bruges) and a captivating score by Mark Orton (Nebraska).

 

There is much to appreciate and savour in The Holdovers, which has warmth, humour and heartache.

 

Rated M, it scores an 8 out of 10.

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