The Holdovers – Movie Review

The champagne of films

What’s it about?

It’s the end of the year at a prestigious American private school, and Angus (Dominic Sessa) is one of the handful of students left behind in the care of a cantankerous history professor (Paul Giamatti), and the school’s head cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

What’d we think?

Opening with throwback studio logos and wonderfully crunchy film grain, The Holdovers establishes the cozy feel of a New England boarding school on the eve of their winter break like a WASP-y Hogwarts. A simpler version of “group of misfits becoming unlikely friends” could have easily played out as our leads find themselves spending Christmas together, but we’re instead treated to a far more nuanced and measured character drama, elevated to excellence by the quality of the writing and the fantastic performances of the three leads.

I don’t normally go in for “heartwarming” movies, not because I’m a stony-hearted monster, but because so many movies are clumsy in their attempts to capture a specific feeling that the end result is usually saccharine or simply boring. The Holdovers never goes for the emotional jugular, with the characters here being so well-realised that the most subtle changes in their attitudes and feelings are clear as a bell. The actors balance the emotional weight of their performances with some fantastically funny scenes, and others that simply have you sustaining a big smile for so long that your face hurts. Director Alexander Payne has an incredibly deft touch and gently nudging the audience to the sweet cathartic spot of having laughed and having cried, without ever feeling as if you’ve been cheaply manipulated.

The outstanding writing and performances create genuinely three-dimensional characters, and the cinematography and frosty New England setting wrap the whole thing in a warm scratchy blanket. I loved The Holdovers, and it’s a safe early-pick for one of the best of 2024.

A raconteur by nature and motormouth by trade, the only thing Pete loves more than watching movies is a good debate about movies. He'll argue with anyone about anything, and enjoy it more than is socially acceptable.
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