the holdoversimage credits: google

We’ve all heard inspiring stories about teachers who make a difference in their students’ lives. “The Holdovers” is quite the opposite. It’s dedicated to a character named Paul Hanham, a stern individual whom everyone despises. The mutual dislike is understandable because Mr. Hanham views most of the kids at Barton Academy as little devils and regards the administration as even more corrupt. Based on the evidence presented by director Alexander Payne, Mr. Hanham is not entirely wrong.

‘The Holdovers’: A Review

However, he’s a character with many flaws and, in that regard, the film doesn’t stray too far from it. “The Holdovers” is essentially a generous drama about three troubled souls stuck in Barton during Christmas holidays, offering a heartwarming opportunity for the icy-hearted school screw to thaw.

It’s the year 1970, but “The Holdovers” isn’t your typical period piece. Instead, it feels like Payne, a cinephile who champions classic cinema, has uncovered the remnants of that old culture of yesteryears. From the initial MPAA rating (a big “R” offset by a blue screen) to the focus features and Miramax logos, along with stylized treatments and zooms deployed strategically in post, “The Holdovers” could pass for a lost relic from the heyday of the Landlord. Payne and screenwriter David Hemingson tell the story in a character-centric, socially conscious manner.

But the story is entirely a delivery device for something deeper and more human. Beyond the surface of this thoroughly satisfying Christmas film, “The Holdovers” is about class and race, sorrow and resentment, opportunity and entitlement, and more. It’s a rare exception to the often-heard complaint that “they don’t make them like they used to.” The most evident fact is that the film was actually made in the 21st century, and it’s a somewhat sadder Paul Giamatti than we last saw him, a bit more dispirited, reunited with that director who gave him his biggest role as the obstinate Miles in 2004’s “Sideways.”

There are many shades of Miles in Hanham: the skepticism and despair, the biting tendency to attack those he either envies or criticizes. He also drinks a lot. Hanham should be teaching unprivileged kids classics rather than ancient history in an Ivy League prep school.

the holdovers
The Holdovers (image credits: google)

In an initial scene, Hanham is seen handing out graded final exams to his students, referring to them as “unteachable little Philistines” and “critics.” Most of them receive Ds and Fs. One boy, a pompous rich kid with plans to spend his holidays in St. Kitts, succeeds in getting a B+. This is Angus Tully (the young and brilliant Dominic Sesa, suggesting a young Adam Driver), who taunts one of his fellow schoolmates for disapproving of celebrating Christmas at Barton. Nobody wants this punishment, which is tantamount to being an orphan, and worse, it means that every moment is being monitored by Mr. Hanham.

Usually, the duty of a “holdover” is assigned to one of Hanham’s collaborators, but Headmaster (Andrew Garman) wants to punish Hanham for failing a legacy student from the previous semester. Graduated from Burton himself, Hanham has very high expectations for those children who pass through its halls today, perhaps inspired to make their lives better. There is a lot of self-loathing hidden in the character, and bringing it to light is one of the many levels on which the film succeeds. But more importantly, it’s the dynamics between him and the other Christmas inmates.

Unearthing ‘The Holdovers’: A Timeless Tale of Redemption and Reflection

First, he’s tasked with taking care of four unruly boys who are incapable of going home for the holidays. Then Angus’s mother calls and cancels their plans for the Saint Kitts. Suddenly, this bachelor finds himself stuck with the dwarf he had tormented – but not for long. In the last minute arrangement, the group is narrowed down to just Mr. Hanham, Angus, and the kitchen manager Mary (Devon Joy Randolph), who is celebrating her first Christmas without her son, Curtis, a Burton graduate who was killed in Vietnam. Coincidentally, Burton men are rarely ever recruited. Their wealthy parents can usually pull strings to get them into fancy universities. But Curtis didn’t have those resources. And as we learn over time, neither did Paul Hanham.

As fans of Payne may recall, the satirist’s second feature, “Election,” also took place in a high school. It seems that his worldview has softened in positive ways, which is not a critique of his earlier work, but rather an acknowledgment that he is now able to place morally complex characters in entertaining situations without resorting to the mockery of his previous work. His expenses. Mr. Hanham demonstrated a remarkable intellect, beginning with unwanted digressions about ancient Rome and punctuated with an indictment of those who can’t translate the unwanted anecdotes of his listeners. He’s so wicked that he mocks Armando Innucci-ability among those he’s upset with.

Hanham is not aware that children’s stories should be handled with care, especially with impressionable teenagers. Fortunately, Mary is there to remind him, working both as comic relief and as an emotional anchor of the film, as Hanham slowly realizes that he’s projecting his frustrations onto Angus. As contemporary character actors would say, there’s no one better than Giacomitti. But it’s more than just nonsense here. ‘The Holdovers’ Hanham wears his hypocrisy like a shield, and it takes time to break down the barrier that reveals the personal revelations about him and Angus’ psychology. In the meantime, Sessa keeps his opposite in Giacomitti, who looks like a young Adam Driver: tall and rugged, with the ability to suggest emotional turmoil beneath the surface.

Payne teases several romantic subplots, flirting with the idea of taking shortcuts to connection – tactics that are sure to bring tears to the eyes of his audience – but he wisely brings his characters and the work they still need to do back into focus. Tugging at the heartstrings of the standard hero-teacher is quite easy, although there is no doubt that Hanham learns as much from his student as his student learns from him. In the end, rather than presenting another “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” Payne has started a more genuine “Goodbye, Mr. Chip on His Shoulder.

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