Dominic Sessa, left, Paul Giamatti, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph in “The Holdovers.” IMDB photo

The great Paul Giamatti in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” leaves all of his many characters behind him, as he pulls on the years-old tweeds and hat of the ’50s, maybe the late ’40s.

This is the Mr. Hunham who teaches ancient civilizations, kicks the leaves and plows through the snow of an equally staid all-boys’ boarding school in the ’70s somewhere in New England.

“Holdovers” is no “Mister Chips” in a revered British mansion. Mr. Hunham graduated here as a boy decades ago, and has accumulated the pine and mold of yesterday, secretly washed down with gulfs of various liquids in his old room.

Hunham, a neurotic, hidden alcoholic, obsessive disciplinarian is, naturally, the most hated teacher at the school. As such, he has been selected to spend the Christmas week within these hallowed halls, monitoring six boys who couldn’t be picked up by their parents. It’s no surprise.

The school is clearly an all-season cage for bright, some brilliant, lads whose parents are occupied in happier, albeit selfish lives, where their boys seem to be dispensable.

We meet Angus (Dominic Sessa) as the co-star who is all packed up and ready to go, but gets a last-minute phone call from his society mother off on a sudden Christmas honeymoon with a brand new husband.


Sessa is the biggest surprise in the picture.

He was a drama student at the actual school, who was suggested to Payne, and cast. That’s a story for another movie.

There are three other boys of different ages stuck here for other reasons: Jim (Ye-Joon Park), Michael Provost as Jason, and Alex Ollerman (Ian Dolley). One of the lads has a father with a super helicopter who swoops in and takes them away for the week, leaving us with the threesome cast.

There is another prisoner of sorts, Mary, the school cafeteria manager (Da Vine Joy Randolph, “Only Murders in the Building,” “The Idol” and “High Fidelity”) a smoker/drinker whose son was once a student here, and very recently has died in Vietnam. This Christmas he would have been with her.

Mary, of course, grabs our attention and holds it in a series of scenes.

Director Payne drops in, for no real reason, Carrie Preston, a townie who inexplicably seems to favor the unfavorable Mr. Hunham. He does that a lot.


These three actors proceed to hold the picture on its feet, as Hunham and young Angus develop a fractured and fragile relationship that Hunham suddenly warms to.

They take Mary to a visit in the suburbs of Boston to spend Christmas with her sister, that allows Hunham to take Angus on a tour of historic Boston.

Director Payne scatters his film with a series of side parties around the campus before the road trip begins to glow.

When Angus suddenly vanishes, the teacher-student relationship seems to move to panic.

The story suddenly reveals Angus’ “dead” father and brings light, depth and breath to his relationship with Hunham.

“Holdovers” is, at its core, a road trip and love story that tries to rescue all the players from their frozen lives, melt the snow in their hearts and give us a great movie. It’s not great, but gives us incredible performances by the two main players, Giamatti and Sessa, who, quite by accident, becomes a star.

The film as been nominated for five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Best Screenplay and Best Film Editing.


J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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