The Holdovers

A review of The Holdovers

Written by TeenTix Newsroom Writer Koreb Tadesse and edited by Teen Editorial Staff Member Kyle Gerstel


The genre of the holiday movie is tried and true; from Home Alone to Elf, Frosty the Snowman to A Charlie Brown Christmas, Christmas movies have been done before, and they’ve been done well. As Thanksgiving rolls around, viewers observe the tradition of watching their favorite characters celebrating the festive time of the year. This makes 2023’s The Holdovers even more of a triumph as a worthy addition to the holiday canon for years to come.

Director Alexander Payne had the task of adding something new to the holiday genre and creating a film that could hold its own outside of the holiday season. Helped by the incredible talents of Payne’s Sideways collaborator Paul Giamatti, seasoned actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and rising star Dominic Sessa, The Holdovers is bound to become a modern classic.

Set in the early ‘70s during winter break at Barton Academy, a fictional boarding school in New England, the film delivers to its viewers a nostalgic atmosphere; in award-winning actress Ayo Edebiri’s Letterboxd review of the movie, she describes it as “Very ‘they don’t make movies like that anymore’ but then they did!”. With its true-to-the-period fashion (plus Sessa’s apt sideburns) along with its tastefully selected soundtrack featuring Labi Siffre’s “Crying, Laughing, Loving” as well as Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ “The Wind,” the movie transports viewers to “the good old days,” or at least the early 1970s. The appearance of The Holdovers cements the success of this illusion. Despite being filmed digitally, the movie has a decisively vintage feel, as if it was filmed on 35mm. However, this appearance is achieved through post-production, color grading, and adding ‘70s title cards and production company logos. This illusion is also apparent in the soundtrack. Although most of the songs are true to the '70s, Khrurangbin’s “A Calf Born in Winter” and Damien Jurjado’s “Silver Joy” come decades later, but assist the retrospective feeling of the soundtrack, and maintain the film’s timelessness.

Paul Giamatti and Dominic Sessa in The Holdovers (2023) Photo by Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES - © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

But it's through its central triad of Paul Hunham (played by Giamatti), Angus Tully (played by Sessa), and Mary Lamb (played by Randolph) that the film expands outside of the confines of the genre. Viewers are introduced to Mr. Hunham as a Grinch of sorts, a strict teacher who Angus, a sarcastic and quick-witted student, clashes with early on. However, when Hunham is forced to watch the holdovers over break (students left on campus for the holidays), it is quickly shown that neither is who the other thinks they are. Mary Lamb, staying over break with them as the lunch lady on campus, acts as a buffer between the two while struggling through the festive season grieving the recent death of her son, Curtis, in the Vietnam War.

What makes this such a successful Christmas movie is the complexity of the characters. The Christmas season, however festive or celebratory it may be, is also filled with sadness, grief, and pain for so many people. In The Holdovers, each member of the hodgepodge trio experiences internal and external conflict at every turn; Angus and Hunham, two very similar characters in their wit, relationships with their fathers, and experiences with depression, struggle to move past their preconceived notions and understand each other; Mary struggles with the death of her son in Vietnam, which she attributes to her inability to pay for her son to go to college.

Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers (2023) Photo by Seacia Pavao/Seacia Pavao - © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

So much love is evident throughout the film as the trio resolves their conflicts with each other and because of each other. By exploring these characters against the backdrop of the holiday season, Payne has made a feel-good movie for the ages.

Lead Photo Credit: Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers (2023) Photo by Seacia Pavao/Seacia Pavao - © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 5 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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