The Holdovers – Review

Worth seeing: for the two central performances that take a difficult teacher-pupil relationship and mould it into more of a father-son dynamic, in an otherwise empty school, over the Christmas holidays
Director:Alexander Payne
Featuring:Paul Giamatti, Andrew Garman, Brady Hepner, Carrie Preston, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Darby Lee-Stack, Dominic Sessa, Gillian Vigman, Ian Dolley, Jim Kaplan, Juanita Pearl, Michael Provost, Naheem Garcia, Stephen Thorne, Tate Donovan
Length:133 minutes
Released:19th January 2024


Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is a cranky, middle-aged classics teacher at a private boarding school, hated as much by his pupils as he is by the head, who forces him to stay on the premises over the Christmas holidays to look after a handful of teenagers who, for one reason or another, have no-where else to go.

The only other people on site are the head of the kitchen, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and the caretaker Danny (Naheem Garcia).

When most of the holdovers manage to get onto a last-minute trip, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) finds himself alone with the three staff members for the holidays.

As they’re forced to spend time with each other, frustrations soften, secrets emerge and the disparate group starts to bond.

But their experiences over a few days, one Christmas, will have an impact on the rest of their lives.


This is a delightful, feel-good Christmas film, coming out – because of the peculiarities of the film awards season – a month too late. But it’s none the less enjoyable – it just means that families won’t be popping to the cinema to see it together in the same numbers.

Fitting right into Alexander Payne’s oeuvre, The Holdovers has the dejected odd-couple and road-trip of Sideways and the cross-generational journey of self-discovery of Nebraska, as their past experiences shape their present and build their future.

Paul Giamatti’s cantankerous classics teacher – whose cold, hard exterior hides a warm, soft centre – knows he’s the dissatisfied dreamer that his disenfranchised young charge might one-day become – but initially, at least, he feels no pastoral drive to help him. But as secrets emerge, the teacher-pupil relationship develops into one that more resembles a father and son – something that Angus turns out to need more than he initially lets on.

Typical Alexander Payne, it’s thoughtful, warm and witty, with a script as sharp as its performances and characters as nuanced and complex as they are empathetic.

As the narrative chugs gently towards its predictable denouement, there are few surprises, but the journey is deftly handled and entertaining, nonetheless.

The Holdovers isn’t quite up there with Sideways or Nebraska, but it almost feels like it’s been warming the cockles of audiences since 1970s, when it’s set, and it’ll certainly find its place in the future Christmas schedules – after seeing through an Awards Season that’s shaping up as a fight between the Oppenheimer juggernaut and this intimate chamber piece.