The Holdovers

The Christmas movie which wasn’t shown at Christmas in the UK! David Hemingson’s and Alexander Payne’s engaging drama focuses on a by-the-rules Classics teacher, Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti). He is stitched up by a colleague into supervising some students over the holiday season in December 1970. A character-driven drama which becomes a road movie — it’s Paul Giamatti’s performance which drives the movie. He brings heart, warmth and curmudegonliness all round!

Due to David Hemingson’s writing, the characters are fully rounded, with flaws, foibles and redeeming qualities. Trapped together, they work out their lives together. School cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) grieves the loss of her son, recently killed in Vietnam. Paul is protective, caring and kind to Mary, challenging the snobbery and prejudices of his public school charges.

Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) is a bright but troubled student, who keeps saying and doing the wrong thing. Very publicly. In a fascinating scene he both consoles and insults an upset younger student, Ye-Joon Park (Jim Kaplan), at the same time. However he’s battling the loss of his father (fully explained later in the film), his mother’s remarriage to a new husband, depression, as well as not being taken home for Christmas at the last minute.

Scrooge-like, Paul Hunham forces the ‘holdovers’ to study by day and exercise outdoors in the snow, and eat leftovers! Until one of them is rescued by their father — and after contacting most of the parents, arranges to take his classmates on a ski-ing trip. They are even helicoptered out of there in the parental helicopter! Unfortunately, Angus’s mother and step-father are on honeymoon, and can’t be reached, so he’s forced to remain. Mary and Paul form sweet friendships, whilst Angus kicks off — including a chase through the school at night, and an unfortunate gym accident.

Having dislocated his arm (and been fixed), Mary equally twists Paul’s arm and gets him to show some Christmas spirit. They go to a Christmas party thrown by a school colleague, Lydia (Carrie Preston), where there is romance and grief in equal measures. Together with Danny (Naheem Garcia), the school’s caring janitor, the disparate group celebrate New Year. Angus then persuades Paul to take him to Boston — on a field trip! Here they do all the fun things Angus wanted to do with his family, and Paul does some social boasting to an old University friend.

Always with a habit of running away, Angus is caught getting a taxi…to go and see his dad. Only it’s not what any of us think. This incident will have repercussions for them all.

Paul Giamatti and the twists and turns along the way really make this drama. Everyone is written with deep sympathy, (such as a tender scene where Mary takes baby clothes for her sister Peggy (Juanita Pearl), only these are the former baby clothes of her son Curtis). The only ones who aren’t are Angus’s Mum and step-dad who have quite a harsh confrontational scene towards the end — they aren’t fully rounded, nor seen as more than selfish, self-focused people. We don’t really see things from Angus’s Mum’s point of view, unlike the other characters.

But, having lived life, Paul learns to live life to the full — and try new things. Unlike Scrooge, he isn’t haunted by ghosts so much as humanity, as people are confronted by themselves — and each other. Ironically they’re on a spiritual journey whilst loudly declaiming that they don’t believe in God. But I think He believes in them. With a satisfying ending, we’re left to imagine what Paul does next (and I like that everything doesn’t end neatly or sweetly).

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Cultures: Arts Reviews and Views by Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!