The Holdovers

The filmmakers have apparently said this is not a Christmas film, but the key art and setting certainly augur toward annual viewing. Neither “It’s a Wonderful Life” nor “Die Hard” set out to become Christmas classics, but viewership certainly increases for each film every December.

“Holdovers” reunites director Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti since 2004 when they first exploded working together in “Sideways.” Giamatti of course has garnered myriad followers while playing characters as diverse as John Adams and Chuck Rhoades in “Billions.”

Here Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, a schlubby professor at Barton Academy, a New England boarding school. The title of the film refers to students unable for whatever reason to head home for Christmas. Hunham is giving the assignment of looking after this small island of misfit boys. No one wants to be there, especially the beleaguered school cook played wonderfully by Da’Vine Joy Randolph. As all the other students scurry to make their escape for the holidays, the holdovers face the grim reality that their break will be overseen by Hunham, who intends to continue the strict academic rigor to which they’ve become all-too-familiar.

As also evident from the key art, the story really involves three characters, Hunham, the cook and the remaining holdover Angus Tully. The only student for the bulk of the film is portrayed in a standard stand out performance by Dominic Sessa. The sparring between professor and student results in a grudging mutual respect. Hunham once attended Barton and no doubt underwent an even more intense curriculum and lifestyle as a student. Now in the early 1970s as a professor at Barton, Hunham clearly believes that his students deserve much of the same.

With the script by newcomer David Hemingson, this is a very enjoyable film with sufficient comedic and dramatic elements.

It remains to be seen if it will be viewed again next year by the many satisfied viewers from this year.


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.