Cinematic Considerations: The Holdovers

Plot: “A cranky history teacher at a remote prep school is forced to remain on campus over the holidays with a troubled student who has no place to go.” -IMDB

Review: Every student I have ever known circled the holidays on their calendar. The welcome break, custom-built into the calendar, meant time with family, holiday traditions, presents, and a much-needed vacation from school. Then, during my freshman year of college, I had to return to the dorms early. I had a job at a retail bookstore. It being the holidays and the busiest time of the year, I could not convince my supervisor to give me the entire two weeks off.  

Walking around the dorm, much to my amazement, I came to discover I was not alone. The halls were still eerily empty except for the international students who couldn’t make the long flight home, and students, such as myself, forced back to the trenches of holiday retail. It should have seemed so obvious, but I never realized the potential stories that could be told about those left behind.  

The Holdovers focuses on a remote prep academy for boys and their professor who rules with an iron fist, Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti). With the holidays lurking around the corner and final exams complete, the students dream of hitting the slopes, visiting family and friends, and escaping to exotic locations. For an unlucky group of four students, there will be no reprieve or escape from the hallowed halls of the prep school. No one is coming to rescue them. They are holdovers, and they are stuck spending the holidays with Professor Hunham.  

From this concept, one of the funniest, emotionally rich, and cutting comedies I have seen in years is born. The film explores every facet of the characters who anchor this story. From entitlement to loss and to a closed off life, nothing is safe or off the record. Things get even more interesting when four of the students leave campus with permission to join a fellow student at a mountain escape. This leaves one student standing, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), alongside the professor and Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the campus cook.  

Heartbroken and disappointed, we find Angus dismayed by his circumstances. Naturally, he tests the limits of his professor. This provides some of the funniest moments of the film, but it also provides moments of emotional breakthrough as each character explores their personal definitions of home.  

While the relationship between Angus and Professor Hunham is fascinating to watch unfurl, it is Mary Lamb, played masterfully by Randolf, that serves as the heart of this film. Angus and the professor are mirror images of each other, but meet Lamb as she works through the complexities of a child lost to war. By every measure, her story colors the background of the film and gives it a richness I did not expect.  

As this movie enters its third act, we escape the stuffiness of campus. Mary heads toward the comforting arms of family. Angus and Professor Hunham turn toward Boston. In these moments, we see the culmination of all we have built toward. It is these scenes where an unshakable truth reveals itself, and we witness a true evolution.  

From the trailer alone, I expected this film to be funny. I did not expect it to be so emotionally gripping and heartfelt. Without a doubt, it is a movie I will return to again and again with the passing of each holiday season.  

Be good to each other,


Visit Nathan at

Latest article