The Holdovers review: Laugh, cry, and find comfort in this homage to human connections

Karishma Jangid
New Update
The Holdovers

In 'The Holdovers,' laughter and tears intertwine as the protagonists remind us of the power of human connections and the healing found in unlikely friendships.

If there ever was a perfect homage to 'Dead Poets Society,' it's Alexander Payne's 'The Holdovers.' It's the type of slice-of-life movie that makes you laugh and cry, gently evoking a myriad of emotions. In a world where suffering is normalized, this film feels like a comforting embrace. It reinstates my belief in cinema's ability to transport me to another world while helping me understand myself better.

Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is a strict professor at Barton Academy in New England, USA, a once-prestigious institution now catering to elite boys. He consistently gives his students low grades, struggles with criticism, and practices sadism under the guise of discipline and values. Leading a monotonous life, he rarely leaves the Academy and is universally disliked. Over Christmas break, Paul is tasked with supervising students unable to return home, either due to parental neglect or absence. While most students eventually leave, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) remains behind as his mother is on honeymoon with her new husband. Lonely and resentful, Angus directs his anger towards his mother, Paul, and the world at large. Drama and arguments ensue whenever Paul and Angus are in the same room. Also present is Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), the African American cook at the academy, still grieving the recent loss of her son, Curtis. Curtis, a former student at Barton, enlisted in the Vietnam War to fund his college education but never returned. Trapped in the academy and struggling to find Christmas cheer, the trio gradually bond and learn to process their grief, ultimately finding solace in each other's company. Reluctantly, the three holdovers help one another start over. 

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The Holdovers has one of the most refreshing scripts I have watched in a long time. It has good old comedy, drama, and pain. The camera and the dialogues take you back to the 1970s. The numerous close-ups, especially, take you closer to the characters. In the middle of a scene, for a few seconds, the screen will zoom in on a character’s face, almost as if it's asking you, "Here, spend some time with him." The film feels very intimate. Even in a crowded theatre, it speaks to you personally. It’s as if the film knows each of us, by the virtue of being human, and wants to tell us, “You are lonely, aren’t you? I understand.”

It truly understands. The filmmakers grasp the essence of being human, particularly loneliness, mental health, pain, and companionship. They recognize that despite our differences, pain, love, and the desire for companionship connect us all. And what I admire most is how the film depicts companionship between colleagues and a student. Similar to Dead Poets Society, The Holdovers romanticizes the teacher-student relationship but in a more realistic manner. Additionally, the film delves into various other sub-themes such as mental illness, parental trauma, the struggle to access resources despite academic merit, death, romantic loneliness in old age, friendships, holiday loneliness, bullies, and more.

The best part of the film, however, is its humility. It doesn’t exaggerate anything, simply telling a soulful and intimate story while also entertaining you. It’s entirely up to you how you choose to engage with it. I left the theater with tears, both happy and sad.

Have you watched this one yet? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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the holdovers The Holdovers review