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Review: ‘The Holdovers’ holds my heart

Surrounded by shards of glass, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) and Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) stand behind a broken red Christmas ornament. Set in 1970, “The Holdovers” follows strict history teacher Paul Hunham as he is forced to supervise students who have nowhere to go over the winter break. The film centers on the growing bond between Hunham, Tully and Lamb. Photo Source: Image from “The Holdovers” on IMDb

Within the first few seconds of the film, the choir’s harmonies and scenes of a snowy Massachusetts set behind grainy film immediately drew me into the world of “The Holdovers.” I felt wrapped up in warmth and a sense of nostalgia, and those feelings remained throughout the rest of the film.

Set at the end of 1970, “The Holdovers” follows strict history teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), as he is forced to supervise a group of students at Barton Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts, who have nowhere to go during winter break. The story is primarily centered around Hunham, student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) and cafeteria administrator Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who has just lost her son in the Vietnam War. “The Holdovers” is directed by Alexander Payne, produced by Miramax and Gran Via Productions and distributed by Focus Features. 

Throughout the film, both Payne and the cast perfectly capture not only what life and the world were like in the 1970s, but also the sense of nostalgia viewers who were alive during that time might feel while watching the film. Screenwriter David Hemingson also portrays the immense amount of loss and resulting anger over the Vietnam War, however, the war does not overshadow the film’s main plot.

While watching “The Holdovers,” I not only appreciated each character’s uniqueness, personality and development, but also the arc of the bond between three characters who might not typically be paired together.

Although Hunham is strict towards his students, as an audience member, I could see that he cares about them and wants them to succeed. He also has an open heart, as he and Angus provide company for Mary after she has just lost her son. I appreciated their family-style dynamic even more while seeing them watch “The Newlywed Game” together each night and when they all visited Boston together.

I found “The Holdovers” to be extremely heartwarming, and Hemingson and Payne also included elements of comedy in both the direction and the script that gave the film a lighter feel at times. For example, Hunham bangs bedpans together each morning to wake up the holdover students as they are sleeping in Barton Academy’s hospital area. He also insists on his students continuing their physical education while snow is falling outside. He even chases Angus around the school when he attempts to avoid his constant supervision.

I enjoyed watching the unbreakable bond form between Angus, Paul and Mary throughout “The Holdovers,” especially the relationship between Angus and Paul. Sessa perfectly encapsulates the character of Angus Tully, especially in his portrayal of an annoyed teen who is mad at his mom for getting remarried. He also shows a lot of care for Paul and Mary, as well as some of the younger students being held over for the break. Angus even comforts a younger student, Ye-Joon Park (Jim Kaplan), when he is crying one night during the break.

Not only was all of the acting amazing, but I also loved the soundtrack throughout the film. The songs “Silver Joy” by Damien Jurado and “Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying” by Labi Siffre, which reoccur throughout the film, beautifully represent the tone of the film. They have nostalgic, ’70s folk qualities but also feel very comforting and warm, which is how I felt while watching the film.

The Wind” by Yusuf/Cat Stevens is also an extremely well-known classic ’70s song. I grab the tissues whenever I hear it, and that was especially true as I heard the song in “The Holdovers.” “The Wind” plays as Angus and Paul go ice skating in Boston together, and it is extremely clear that they care about each other deeply, just as a father and son would care about each other.

Although “The Holdovers” is set around Christmas time and New Year, it has a timeless quality to it; I felt that it was not just about the holiday season or just about the 1970s, but was a timeless story about the power of love and chosen family. Overall, “The Holdovers” is the best recently-released film that I have seen. It is heart-warming, nostalgic and comforting, but also sophisticated and bittersweet. You may cry, and you will definitely smile and laugh. However, by the end of the film, you will not want to say goodbye to Angus, Paul and Mary, and you will be grateful you watched it. 

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact


Set at the end of 1970, “The Holdovers” follows a group of students at an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts who are not going home for the winter break and are being supervised by strict classics history teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti). The story mainly centers around Hunham, student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) and school chef Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who has just lost her only son in the Vietnam War, and the unwavering bond the three of them form as they are held over at school for the holidays.

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About the Contributor
Nina Sperling, Senior Reporter
Nina Sperling joined the Oracle in 2021. She became a senior reporter in 2022 and is continuing that role for the 2023-24 school year. She loves spending time with family and friends, dancing in and out of school, reading and playing with her labradoodle Georgie. She is also passionate about politics, history, international relations, social justice and Spanish.    

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