The Holdovers

Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), a curmudgeonly teacher at a New England prep school, is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to look after a handful of students who have nowhere to go. Eventually, he forms an unlikely bond with one of them – a smart but troubled boy called Angus (Dominic Sessa) -- and with the school’s head cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who has just lost her son in Vietnam.



The Holdovers begins as an entertainingly cantankerous battle of wills (and truly fabulous, endlessly quotable one liners) and ends as a heartwarming and poignant Christmas classic. 


Alexander Payne’s film features three brilliant central performances from Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa (in his film debut if you can believe that). They are all so good that it is hard to pick a stand-out. Giamatti and Sessa are extremely entertaining sparring partners, while Randolph really is The Holdovers's beating heart.  


The screenplay for The Holdovers is an absolute joy. It was written by David Hemingson, who has been working in television (for shows including Kitchen Confidential and Whiskey Cavelier) for almost 30 years. The Holdovers actually began life as an hour-long comedy drama. It was Payne who asked Hemingson to turn his story into a feature film. 



According to Hemingson*, Payne gave him the following logline: “An odiferous, ocularly-challenged teacher is obliged to stay over Christmas to babysit a group of students, one of whom has been stranded by his newly remarried mother”. The writer was then given free rein to craft his story. 


Many of the scenes in The Holdovers are taken directly from Hemingson’s life – with some sequences inspired by time spent with his uncle. “I feel like so much of him is in the movie,” Hemingson told Deadline**. “I mean, so much of the dialogue and things that he would say to me, like, ‘Life is like a henhouse ladder - shitty and short,’ or, ‘Sex is 99% friction, 1% goodwill.’ That was all him.” 


The Holdovers has a wonderful sense of time and place. Payne didn’t just want his film to be set in the 1970s, he wanted it to feel as if it had been made in the 1970s. Cinematographer, Eigil Bryld, initially planned to shoot on film. In the end, however, he decided shoot digitally and recreate an authentic 70s aesthetic. The finished result, a work of time-travelling magic - is a joy to behold.



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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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