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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Go home for the holidays with ‘The Holdovers’

Peyton McKenzie

Christmas is traditionally celebrated with family, gathered around tables across the world with lights all aglow as people join with their loved ones for a day of merriment.

That is, of course, if you are not Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) or Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) — the main trio in the critically acclaimed film “The Holdovers.”

Because then you are stuck at a snowy New England boarding school in 1970, relegated to a building with next to no heat and the pain of loss simmering in your belly. It may be Christmastime, but life isn’t always easy.

Especially not for these three.

Hunham is a cantankerous history teacher pushing against the grain of boarding school life, trying to shape the minds of his spoiled and unwilling students into getting somewhat of an honest education. Angus is a high school junior with a rocky past, his family just as unreliable as his behavior. And Mary is the school’s head cook, gripped by the fresh reins of grief as she mourns the loss of her son — a soldier who died in the Vietnam War.

They are all suffering. They all feel alone, ostracized and sticking out like a sore thumb, as it’s as clear to the world as it is to them that they are painfully adrift. So when Hunham and Maryare forced to stay over break and care for Angus — who’s been left behind by his mother and new stepfather — over the winter holiday, they break and bond in unlikely ways.

It starts out rocky. Angus is determined to rebel in any way possible, to punish the world for all he has lost and been forced to endure. He grinds roughly against Hunham, their soon-to-be-discovered similarities making for explosive fights of Greek and cursing as they learn more about each other’s pasts.

Mary is the balm between the men. Her suffering is the freshest, the pain of losing her son only compounded by the cheer of the holiday season. They treat her with a care they refuse each other, but between Mary’s caring hands and excellent food, she forces them into a learned warmth and empathy.

Randolph shines just as much as her character does. Her performance as a Bostonian mother learning to put together the pieces of her life strikes a powerful chord, one that can be easily felt without having to suffer in the same ways. She moves effortlessly across the screen — so much so that she has already walked away with wins at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Her “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar is imminent, and well-deserved.

Giamatti and Sessa don’t get left behind in Randolph’s triumph, however. Both give excellent performances as men in different stages of life, one just beginning and one looking back, but both working through their pain, regardless.

Hunham and Angus are two sides of the same coin and it’s a joy to watch them begin to learn so. From pill bottles to familial fears, the two men start to realize how much they have in common, how much their pain strikes a similar chord. They begin to care for each other — not just as teacher and student, but as people too.

The film is just as visually stunning as its performances. Director Alexander Payne and cinematographer Eigil Bryld worked together to use inventive film techniques to give the movie a similar visual to the ‘70s films of the era. From filming with a digital camera with special lenses to creating a specific lookup table to color-grade the film, the resulting visuals are immersive, wholly transporting the audience back to New England in 1970.

“The Holdovers” is a film that was made with care, about people who care, and that’s where its biggest success lies.

People know pain and suffering well. They know it in their bones, in their blood, in their spirit. They carry it on their backs as they walk through their day, trying to take it down when it rears its ugly head at others.

But “The Holdovers” shows the other side of pain — love. And as Hunham, Angus and Mary navigate the dwindling days of the year, with milestones and celebrations afoot, they come to learn that perhaps it’s the love we have for one another that binds us together, and not the pain that comes with being human.

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About the Contributors
Zoe Leone
Zoe Leone, Arts & Life Editor
Peyton McKenzie
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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