The Holdovers (2023)

The Holdovers (2023)

A cozy and tenderly acted dramedy about the loneliness of the holidays

The Very Best



United States of America
Comedy, Drama
Alexander Cook, Andrew Garman, Bill Mootos
133 min


At this point, there might be just as many, if not more, Christmas movies about found families than biological families.

What it's about

An ancient history teacher finds himself having to spend the holidays at his New England boarding school with a group of students left on campus and a member of the cafeteria staff grieving the death of her son.

The take

Of all the Christmas-set films to have come out over the last couple of months that were, inexplicably, about grief and regret (you'd be surprised by how many there are), The Holdovers easily outdoes its contemporaries by being confident enough to just sit with its characters. Like the best of director Alexander Payne's other films, there are no melodramatic crescendos or overcomplicated metaphors; there are only flawed individuals going about their lives, occasionally noticing the things that bind them together. Payne's gentle touch means the characters (and the audience) aren't forced to "solve" their grief, but allowed to come to terms with it in their own way, with each other.

Payne evokes the film's 1970s setting through a muted color palette and analog—almost tactile—sound design, giving warmth to this New England despite all its snow and chilly interiors. It's understandable that these characters are similarly cold to each other on the surface at first, but they manage to thaw the ice simply by taking the chance to listen to each other's pain. It's the kind of film in which relationships develop so gradually, that you hardly notice until the end how much mutual respect has formed between them when they return from their dark nights of the soul back to their status quo.

What stands out

Like Payne did before with the likes of Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, and Bruce Dern, The Holdovers serves as a tender character study about an older man trying to maintain some sort of control and choice in their lives. This time that man in question is played by the incomparable Paul Giamatti, who slips into the role of a curmudgeon so well that he elevates the other actors around him (especially Dominic Sessa, whose performance is at times too knowingly precocious), as he navigates his own buried insecurities and learns to shake himself out of the role he's convinced himself he should play.


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