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The Holdovers

Farhad Dalal
Farhad Dalal
4.5 Star popcorn reviewss


December is finally here and with it is the best time of the year! It is often said that December is that time of the year wherein you often reflect the year that has been while also looking forward to the next year. That vibe of being introspective while also being hopeful is the kind of feeling that is ideal for any part of the year, but mostly followed in December! Also, December is extra special as it is my Birthday Month! And with Christmas and New Year fast approaching, the festive films have already started trickling in. With that, I finished watching the new English film, The Holdovers that premiered on VOD this week. Yes, this is a Christmas flick and there is a certain holiday vibe that I wished to attain through the film. As usual, I did not know anything about the film having barely skimmed through its premise. Yet, little did I know that Christmas would arrive early for me this year through the film. So then does The Holdovers manage to impress, let’s find out.

Story & Screenplay

The Holdovers follows the story of a teacher at a boarding school who is asked to take over the duty of taking care of a bunch of students during the holiday season. And he ends up forming a heartwarming bond with one of them, along with a head cook who has lost her son in war. The story is one of the most beautiful and aching Christmas films that I have watched in recent times that goes beyond the realms of a regular holiday film. In fact along the way, it touches upon some pertinent issues related to loneliness and depression that adds so much to the drama which is essentially around a bunch of broken souls strolling their way through the holiday period. The screenplay standing at about a 130 odd minutes does make for a compelling viewing that oscillates being being heartwarming to being poignant, both in equal measures through its layered story telling. 

Set in 1970, The drama begins with the introduction of the setting – a boarding school laced with snow that represents the start of the holiday season. Now we usually equate the holiday season with intimate time with our families and friends but what the drama taps into is the exact opposite side of the holiday season. With everyone headed home, we are witness to a bunch of misfits who must stay back in school due to various issues at their homes, some involving a few family members too. To watch over them is their history teacher, a loner himself and quite the soul that you wouldn’t wish to spend your holidays with. Extremely strict and a disciplinary, the story starts taking the form of a coming of age tale between the group of misfits, with each of them dealing with their own demons within themselves. 

The proceedings are engrossing and engaging while being heartwarming and poignant in many ways. The writers masterfully weave situations that leaves behind only 3 of them with a whole lonely school to accompany them. And thus begins a tender commentary on loneliness that can so easily be brushed aside while neglecting the elephant in the room. There is a hint of sadness sprinkled in the drama that never really reaches the surface while being buried deep within the snow of the otherwise festive season, while doing just enough to feel its vibe as an undercurrent. But at its core, the drama can be looked upon as a journey of perspectives between individuals with different ideologies similar to what a character in the films says, ‘The world is decay, Life is a perception’. If only we could understand and be receptive to perceptions, the world would be a better place to live in! 

There are certain unexpected manoeuvres that doesn’t restrict the drama to a single location while also be willing to indulge in the festive vibe. But the writers never lose sight of the issues that are being dealt with her, each with respect to the three protagonists. Yet, what they have at the end of the day is each other’s company that keeps them afloat during the holiday season amidst a change of heart! The final act though is achingly beautiful with the now shifted character dynamics on full display. That was also a metaphor of how the new year brings about a set of new challenges, while continuing with the positive equations from the end of the year. This was masterful writing that gently weaved heartfelt situations in the narrative while never really making the drama glum with the issues it wished to handle!

Dialogues, Music & Direction

The dialogues are filled with gems that impart life lessons along the way. The little undercurrent of humour is prevalent as well making the drama light hearted and never weighed down by the issues that were addressed along the way. The music is beautiful, incorporating many Christmas carols that had me humming them in synchronization. The BGM perfectly depicts the underlying layer of melancholy in the lonely holiday season. The cinematography captures the vibe of the drama and the holiday season beautifully well. The editing is crisp and sharp throughout. Director Alexander Payne beautifully creates characters and weaves some heartfelt situations around them while also addressing some poignant issues in a rather sensitive manner. The direction is excellent here.


The performances are outstanding by the ensemble cast. Brady Hepner as Teddy and Carrie Preston as Miss Crane has their moments to shine. Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary is such a complex character that had to internalise her pain while letting it out only abruptly. And she beautifully bottles all the pain inside her in a sensitive and caring act laced with empathy. And I say empathy because she understands the young boy’s perspective too while often correcting the teacher for his actions. Dominic Sessa as Angus weaves a sensitive portrayal of a young boy carrying a mountain of pain within him. And he touches upon his vulnerabilities and insecurities wonderfully well along the way. Paul Giamatti as Paul is excellent to the core, portraying himself as a hard task master whereas in reality, he is a loner quietly in search for love. And I liked how he maintained his core trait throughout without tweaking it at the end in the wake of his new found bond with Angus(credit to the writers too). He is brilliant in every sense of the word in a charming little performance here.



The Holdovers is a sensitive tale of three broken souls spending time during the holiday season that accounts for one of the best Christmas movies of recent times. Christmas has arrived early for me through this film in the most heartwarming and poignant manner possible. You do not want to miss watching this gem! Highly Highly Recommended!

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