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The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

‘The Holdovers’ is Hollywood holiday magic

Christmas cheer created behind school doors

★★★★★ (5 stars)

If “The Holdovers” does not walk away with at least one or two Oscars come award night, there is something seriously wrong with the academy.

“The Holdovers” is one of the best movies to have been released all throughout 2023 and perhaps even the entire decade. It is an incredibly funny yet engaging and dramatic film with undoubtedly some of the best performances of the year. Very few films are released nowadays that achieve the rank of “perfection,” but if not perfect, “The Holdovers” comes about as close as any other film in recent memory.

“The Holdovers” takes place during the Christmas break of 1970 at the fictional boarding school Barton Academy. Professor Paul Hunham, played by Paul Giamatti, is assigned to watch the students who are unable to go home during the break, with one of these students being Dominic Sessa’s character, Angus Tully.

Shortly after the break began, all the other students, except for Tully, left Barton. This leaves the strict, practical, absolutely no-nonsense Hunham with the rebellious and troubled Tully for the holidays. The two are joined by Barton’s head cook, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the mother of a Barton student who was killed in Vietnam and the academy’s only other resident during the break. 

At first, Tully and Hunham attempt to simply tolerate each other, but as time goes by, they begin to open up more about each other’s lives and eventually find common ground.

“The Holdovers” is such a great movie because of its simplicity. The movie mainly focuses on the relationships between the three characters, who are all very different people and come from completely divergent walks of life. As the movie progresses, more is revealed about all three of them, and especially in the case of Hunham and Tully, the similarities between them begin to reveal themselves. 

The script is written in a way where almost no scene is wasted, with each moment either setting up for a big character development arc or an important interaction between the characters. As the movie progresses, the audience grows more interested in the people they are watching on screen, and by the end of the movie, they grow to love them.

Though the screenplay and characters are definitely huge high points for “The Holdovers,” the movie really shines with the performances, which are incredible across the board. Paul Giamatti stands out as the lead, portraying Hunham as an almost cartoonishly strict professor, but still makes him feel real. As time goes by, however, Hunham’s walls are broken down, and he is shown to be incredibly complex, filled with insecurities and difficulty connecting with others. It is in these scenes that Giamatti’s performance becomes phenomenal beyond words.

Dominic Sessa also goes above and beyond as Angus Tully, who could have easily come across as abrasive or unlikable if played by another actor. While Sessa definitely portrays Tully as a troublemaker in many scenes, his more emotional side comes out multiple times. Tully’s difficult relationship with his family and depression regarding his situation make him a very sympathetic character, due in no small part to his actor’s performance.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, though not given as much screen time as her two costars, steals every scene she is in as Mary Lamb. She is able to display the levels of grief Lamb is going through in every instance she is on screen, even in the more subtle moments in which she appears. Though many of the moments she is depicted in are hard to watch due to their incredibly sad nature, her performance makes them awe-inspiring.

“The Holdovers” is not only a movie with numerous highs, but has almost no negatives. Every single major aspect that makes great filmmaking appear in this movie, from the expert directing by Alexander Payne to the editing and cinematography of the film itself. With the exception of maybe a scene or two that felt a little pointless to the plot, there is almost nothing to report regarding the downsides of the film. In fact, the aforementioned out-of-place scenes may only stand out to select viewers as every other moment in the movie is completely flawless.

“The Holdovers” is a film with one of the best screenplays, cast of characters and group of performers of any film made in recent years. It is definitely a film that is impossible to walk away from without feeling somewhat emotionally drained but, at the same time, completely fulfilled.

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About the Contributor
Trayton Pike, Features Editor
My name is Trayton Pike. I'm a history major. My hobbies include hanging out with friends, watching movies, and listening to the Beatles.
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