Dominic Sessa, Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph (L-R) star in director Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” (Photo Credit: Seacia Pavao/2023 Focus Features, LLC).
(“The Holdovers” trailer courtesy of Focus Features)
Legendary emcee Rakim once rapped, “it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at.”
To paraphrase, it is not where you start but where you finish.
Although “The Holdovers” starts out dry, slow and bland, when the characters start revealing their backstories and removing their facades, it is impossible not to feel for “The Holdovers.”
There is probably nothing worse and more pathetic than being left behind on a college, high school or boarding school campus during the holiday season when all your more fortunate peers are planning to enjoy quality time with their families or flying off to some exotic locale for a much-needed vacation.
Furthermore, there is nothing worse than attending or working at a school where many of the students are pompous elitists and you are just a working-class citizen trying to make a way in life.
In “The Holdovers,” the faculty takes turns staying at the New England boarding school campus to chaperone the students with nowhere to go over the Christmas break.
When a co-worker makes up some nonsense about having a sick mother, the school’s headmaster appoints Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) as the caretaker for the children left on campus during the winter break.
Along with cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and groundskeeper Danny (Naheem Garcia), Paul is by his lonesome to watch out for Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), Alex Ollerman (Ian Dolley), Jason Smith (Michael Provost), Ye-Joon Park (Jim Kaplan) and Teddy Kountze (Brady Hepner).
And all the “orphans” have a back story that goes deeper than they let on from the surface.
In “The Holdovers,” Angus seems like the only student capable of getting adequate grades in Mr. Hunham’s demanding class.
Although students like Kountze have Ivy League ambitions, his lack of success in Mr. Hunham’s course might put a damper on his aspirations.
Jason Smith is the star quarterback on the football team.
And Ye-Joon and Alex are the youngsters of the crew, who must navigate the older bullies of the school like Kountze.
In “The Holdovers,” Mary probably has the most heartbreaking backstory of all the characters.
She is head cook at the prestigious boarding school, a job she took just to ensure that her son would have a top-notch education.
Mary is even willing to deal with the bratty students who complain about her cooking so she can provide a better life for the next generation of her family.
Lastly, although Paul is a demanding teacher with a brilliant mind, he is hiding a secret that only he, the headmaster and few peers from his distant past know about.
When all their stories converge, it will teach people not to judge books by their covers.
Additionally, it does not matter if a person comes from means, life is still filled with problems.
If a person does not have money problems, they might have family, health or career problems.
Furthermore, everyone has skeletons in their closet that can ruin their image if exposed, especially amongst the elite of society.
“The Holdovers” is one of those rare period pieces that gets virtually everything correct, except for one glaring mistake that will be obvious to old school R&B Christmas music lovers.
The film epitomizes the 1970s.
The grainy quality of the visuals screams the 1970s.
The long hair that symbolizes the 1970s counterculture screams the decade of bellbottoms and afros.
The pipe that Paul smoke is all 1970s.
The cars represent the 1970s.
The clothing lets moviegoers know that have been transported back to the 1970s.
The football figurines hanging on the bedroom walls will send many 70s babies back down memory lane like Minnie Riperton would say.
And the politics surrounding the early 1970s will let moviegoers know what decade they are in.
However, filmmakers make one glaring mistake that will confound moviegoers into thinking the 1970s has been confused with 1980.
At a Christmas party at Miss Lydia Crane’s (Carrie Preston) house, Mary puts herself in charge of the record player.
She plays The Temptations’ classic rendition of “Silent Night.”
However, that version that many believe is the best Christmas song ever, did not come out on Motown Records until 1980.
Because the song is so fantastic, filmmakers get a pass for that mistake because it really is not Christmas until people play “Silent Night” by The Temptations.
But a positive note, “The Holdovers” does get the New England/Boston accent right thanks to Randolph who does not try to overdo the famous accent.
Randolph injects the accent from time to time but not with every word.
And although Randolph might not be super-famous yet, she has shined in every performance she has given from “Empire” as Poundcake to “Dolemite is My Name” as Lady Reed.
Randolph will also portray Mahalia Jackson in the Bayard Rustin biopic, “Rustin.”
Giamatti portrays Paul in a contradicting way.
Yes, those brats at the Barton boarding school need some discipline and humility.
But what teacher in their right mind starts teaching a new chapter of the textbook the day before school lets out for the Christmas break?
Students have flights back home.
And many other teachers have already canceled classes so that their students can make it home safely and on time.
But not Paul.
No wonder, the holdovers listen to very few of the rules that he lays down for the Christmas break, even if those rules are from the school’s manual or code of conduct.
Who even reads that anyway?
However, moviegoers must see “The Holdovers” to see how all the characters transform their character by the conclusion of the film.
Because like Rakim said, “it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at.”
And every character is at a different place by the conclusion of “The Holdovers.”