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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

The Holdovers:”Lessons from life”

old man with glasses wearing a bow tie and a corduroy jacket in front of a blackboard

The Holdovers is filled with nostalgia, regret and tears. Yet, it is full of affirming lessons from life. It draws us back to the 1970’s but resonates in a contemporary society.  It is a conduit to contemporary living. The film has been shot in a traditional Hollywood format, rather than widescreen, and uses a subdued, slightly faded colour palette reminiscent of Super 8 home movies.  It’s setting, The Barton Academy, a boarding school for young men from well-heeled families in the Eastern states of the USA, will reignite fond recollections of boarding school for some viewers and unwelcome memories for others. Discomfort is part of the movie’s intention.

byrKatey Rich, Vanity Fair, 9 November, 2023

The nostalgia in The Holdovers is moved into the background as it concentrates its efforts on the sadness and maladjustment of a small group of students, especially the irascible Angus Tully; their forlorn teacher Paul Hunham; and the despondent school’s cook, Mary Lamb, who are abandoned at The Barton Academy while all the other students and staff visit their families during the Christmas holidays. The sadness is also counteracted with humour and good will.

a student, a teacher and a school cook sitting at a dinner table with food

Angus (Dominic Sessa), Paul (Paul Giamatti) and Mary (Da'Vine Joy Randolph)

Paul Hunham—the wonderful actor Paul Giamatti—is the teacher of antiquities at Barton Academy.  It is his plight to oversee the students during their abandonment. He lambasts his students for their lack of learning and discipline to studies.  Most of the students are incensed when he decorates their history essays with F for fail and D+ for barely acceptable.

They expect their entry to high end American universities, such as Harvard and Cornell, is a foregone conclusion because their parents are wealthy, privileged corporate bosses who control large corporations and participate in the top end of the USA’s political system.

They become incandescent when he assigns further reading for their Christmas holiday break when the students expect to be whisked away by helicopter by their parents to exotic locations for skiing holidays or at least jettison school lessons for time away from formal education.

Only one student, Angus Tully, manages to achieve a B+, a substantial result from Mr. Hunham. Angus has the proverbial chip on his shoulder and expresses displeasure with Mr. Hunham in expletive loaded language regardless of the glowing result for his essay.

Angus Tully seethes. His intelligence is unbalanced by the lack of emotional support given by his parents, especially his mother and her newly married husband.

Older man wearing a bowtie, corduroy jacket standing outdoors in snow. they look glum.

Angus and Mr. Hunham

Mr. Hunham isn’t impressed by any of that.  He expects all students to apply themselves to understanding and knowing the subject he teaches, history and, in particular, antiquities. His favourite line is that history teaches us about the present.  He doesn’t always succeed in articulating that connection because his teaching methods are traditional, including the use of Latin phrases ad nauseam.

His most effective teaching moment is when he and Angus bond over an understanding of history while in an antiquities museum viewing a vase decorated with sexually explicit imagery.  They both agree that a bit of salaciousness might give learning a nudge in the direction of student interest.

Mary Lamb harbours the deepest sadness surrounding the emotional devastation regarding her son. It is a burden that weighs her down inconsolably. Students such as Angus and the other entitled students irritate and unsettle her further due to their lack of understanding of their privileged position while she endures her emotional and social deprivations.  Her position at the school belies her deep understanding of her life lessons learned through experience rather than a textbook.

Textbook learning is purely academic unless it can reflect your lived experiences.

This unlikely band from disparate backgrounds slowly perceive each other’s situations to a degree. They become a surrogate family born from tears, regrets & necessity.

They could easily succumb to becoming stereotypical characters but they elevate themselves to show they are people who have vulnerabilities and disappointments in their lives but through mutual support learn that human nature and human interaction, even under constrained circumstances, such as their confinement during holidays, can result in shared feelings and a perception of what it means to be human at our core.

The hurt, tears, laughter, and expletives that bear the marks of dysfunctional lives is overridden by a common humanity. The cruelty of inflicting maximum pain against other people because you feel they couldn’t possible understand your own personal situation is dissipated by actually becoming aware that other people are made of flesh, blood and feelings.

Angus, Paul and Mary become family and share the vicissitudes of family relations involving discord, sweetness, emotional pain, joy, kindness, acrimony, hurt, gentleness, and fury. They share each others’ vulnerability while discovering warmth and humour that can cushion their lives.

Official Trailer The Holdovers

Loss and grief manifest themselves differently. Loss can be physical as with Mary's grief surrounding  her son, Angus’s loss of a parent who is more concerned with her relationship with her new partner than her son’s well-being or Paul’s loss of a substantive career that, despite his high-level intelligence sees his ambitions suppressed by external forces and unpredictable past incidents. They all bear losses and suffering with profound effects for each individual.

Paul Giamatti is a gem in The Holdovers.

a film poster for The Holdovers with the title of the film at the top along with the film's credits, three people standing inside a giant broken Christmas tree ornament

The Holdovers is a razor sharp observation of class, privilege, and human vulnerabilities.

Despite the edginess of Angus, Paul and Mary’s fractured connections, The Holdovers is a delightful film. It is a smaller movie and a solid antidote to the hyperbole of large blockbuster films, such as Oppenheimer, Barbie and the Marvel universe films dominating the cinema landscape at the moment.


Film Extras: School Days & Social Exclusion

a group of students in the centre of a movie poster all sitting over one another, information about the film at the top and the film's title, The Breakfast Club, beneath them

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Five high school students from different walks of life endure a Saturday detention under a power-hungry principal (Paul Gleason). The disparate group includes rebel John (Judd Nelson), princess Claire (Molly Ringwald), outcast Allison (Ally Sheedy), brainy Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) and Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the jock. Each has a chance to tell his or her story, making the others see them a little differently -- and when the day ends, they question whether school will ever be the same.


School daze film poster with five peoplearoudn the edges, th film's title in the centre on a piece of lined school paper

School Daze (1988)

At Mission College, the activist-minded Dap (Larry Fishburne) immerses himself in a world of political rhetoric and social movements. Julian (Giancarlo Esposito), the head of the biggest fraternity on campus, is more concerned with maintaining a strict social order. In between, Dap's conflicted cousin, Half-Pint (Spike Lee), spends most of his time attempting to join a fraternity.


dead poets society movie poster with the title towards the top and a teacher being carried by students beneath th title and film credits at the bottom of the poster

Dead Poets Society (1989)

A new English teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), is introduced to an all-boys preparatory school that is known for its ancient traditions and high standards. He uses unorthodox methods to reach out to his students, who face enormous pressures from their parents and the school. With Keating's help, students Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) and others learn to break out of their shells, pursue their dreams and seize the day.


a film poster with awards listed at the top, a strip showing the main actors below the information, the actors names below the photo strip, the film title, Sideways beneath  their names and an illustration of two people in a wine bottle that is lying on its side

Sideways (2004)

Strictly speaking, Sideways has little to do with school days but it does deal with relationships and emotions and stars the wonderful Paul Giamatti, so, that’s enough reason to sneak it into this collection of Film Extras. Struggling writer and wine enthusiast Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his engaged friend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), on a trip to wine country for a last single-guy bonding experience. While Miles wants to relax and enjoy the wine, Jack is in search of a fling before his wedding. Soon Jack is sleeping with Stephanie (Sandra Oh), while her friend Maya (Virginia Madsen) connects with Miles. When Miles lets slip that Jack is getting married, both women are furious, sending the trip into disarray.



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