Flix at :48: The Holdovers
It's no secret that multiple family members call me the Grinch this time of year, because I often get annoyed with the incessant cheerfulness of Christmas. This annoyance usually means I don't watch Christmas films, or at least I don't enjoy them when I do. But my experience with the new film The Holdovers was surprisingly touching without being overly sentimental.
The Holdovers is about a grumpy, unpopular, history professor who is forced to stay on the campus of a fancy New England prep school over the Christmas break to supervise five students who are stuck at the school with nowhere else to go. The anticipated Christmas holiday of gifts, games, and family is replaced with studying, jogging and early wake-up calls. Written by David Hemingson, the screenplay came from a pilot script for a TV series David wrote about his own personal experiences attending a prep school in 1980.
As the professor buts heads with an especially petulant student, they try to enjoy the holiday break together without killing each other. A suburban Christmas party, a hospital visit, and a surprise helicopter all force the mortal enemies of teacher and teenager to understand each other and maybe even help each other too. Director Alexander Payne is in top form like in his previous films Sideways (2004) and Nebraska (2013) highlighting a lot of dry humor and bitter loneliness to explore the lives of three main characters each trying to navigate their own private tragedies.
Set in 1970 with people sitting in large empty rooms reflecting their own emotional desolation, The Holdovers reminds me of small-scale, intimate, unglamorous 1970s films like Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Last Detail (1973), and Harold and Maude (1971) all of which center around ordinary unhappy people building unexpected friendships that help them along their journey.
Paul Giamatti (Jungle Cruise, 2021) as an academic Scrooge figure, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name, 2019) as a quiet lunch lady named Mary grieving the death of her young son, both give Oscar-worthy performances. All their dialogue is laden with cynical wisdom combined with a begrudging tenderness. The Holdovers is more than a funny, dark, heartwarming holiday treat. It's a warm hug to teachers everywhere and how they shape our childhoods (as well as our futures) for good. And who doesn't need a hug this time of year?