<script async src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js"></script> <!-- Showbiz Portal Bottom 1 300x250, created 10/15/10 --> <ins class="adsbygoogle" style="display:inline-block;width:300px;height:250px" data-ad-client="ca-pub-1272644781333770" data-ad-slot="2530175011"></ins> <script> (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); </script>
Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 13, 2023



ALEXANDER PAYNE is a noted writer-director best known for such acclaimed films as “Election”, “About Schmidt”, “Sideways” and the “The Descendants”. 

But his last film, “Downsizing” (2O17), was a critical and commercial failure.

He’s now back with “The Holdovers” and it’s a good comeback for him as the film really connects with viewers.  

It’s perfect viewing for the Christmas season as it’s not only set one snowy Christmas and New Year in New England, but it has so many of our fave carols in the soundtrack, like “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Silent Night”, “Little Drummer Boy”, to put you in the right Christmas spirit!

The story is set in Christmas of 1970. Paul Giamatti (who got an Oscar nomination for Payne’s “Sideways” nearly 20 years ago) plays Mr. Hunham, a terror ancient history high school teacher at Barton Academy, a boarding school for boys where he himself also studied many years ago.

He’s an expert on classical civilization in which modern people no longer seem to be interested at all.

He was there on a scholarship, but its students are usually sons of the rich and powerful who lavish the school with fat donations so their offspring can be later sent to prestigious colleges and universities.

Students detest Hunham for being such a badass, notorious for giving very low grades in his class.

Even the school’s headmaster (who was once his student) dislikes him for giving a failing grade to the son of an important school donor. 

A teacher assigned to supervise the holdover students, who are not going home and will stay in the boarding school during the holidays, lied in saying he has to tend to his very sick mother. Hunham is then asked to replace him.

Five students stay on, including Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) whose mother calls up at the last minute to say that she cannot pick him as she is going on a holiday trip with her new husband. 

Soon, the father of a wealthy holdover student arrives in his helicopter and takes the boys to spend the holidays with his family. 

Angus is not included as he didn’t get permission from his mom, so he has no choice but to stay with Mr. Hunham.

Also staying in school with them is the school’s chief cook, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “Dolemite is My Name”), whose own son was a Barton student who was just killed while serving in the Vietnam War because Mary is poor and cannot send him to college where he can get a deferment from military service.

At first, Angus is very hostile to Mr. Hunham, making his teacher run after him to their gym where he is forbidden to go. He jumps in it without knowing where he’d land and broke his arm in the process.

A teacher at Barton, Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston), invites them to her home for a Christmas party on Christmas eve. While drinking, Mary melts down as she’s still heartbroken and mourns for the untimely death of her son.  

Angus asks Hunham that they go to Boston and while there, they get to bond more with each other, opening up to reveal some of their innermost secrets, like why Hunham has no choice but to stay in Barton for the rest of his life.

The movie is about lonely people and the main characters are so well written. 

Hunham claims he believes in their school’s objective to shape its young men, but the way he behaves, it looks like he just loathes all the students so it’s not surprising that the feeling is mutual and they also cannot stand him.

He is just the worst possible choice to take care of lonely students at Christmas in this winter of their discontent.

But as we get to know him better, we get to understand his vulnerabilities and we realize that beneath his repugnant exterior, he has so much compassion for students like Angus.

The same goes for Angus, who at first comes off as such a nasty brat. 

But over the course of the movie, we learn more about him and his family and we get to understand better why he’s behaving like a troublemaker who’s been kicked out from other schools, when he’s actually quite smart. 

The characters don’t easily open up to share their feelings, so when they do so, you kinda get caught off guard. Giamatti also played a depressed teacher in “Sideways”, set in California wine country. 

Here, he initially comes off as an annoying authoritarian teacher but we learn later that, actually, he is quite a pathetic grouch. 

Angus tells him that he smells bad and he says he has an ailment that makes him exude such an odor after excessive sweating. Students also make fun of his eyes that suffers from strabismus, so they call him Walleye. 

He was also bullied while studying at Harvard, but despite these setbacks, it’s obvious he is at peace with himself and his solitary life as a long time bachelor. 

Giamatti is splendid as Hunham and we won’t be surprised if he’d get another Oscar nomination. Between us, we’d choose him over Cillian Murphy, the early favorite.

He gets superlative support from Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb and Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully. 

There are some scenes in the film that made us teary eyed and it’s effective as as it’s understated and does not coerce you to cry, unlike some local films we just saw that seem to want to wring your tearducts so you’d cry.

Instead, it’s told with just an undercut of bittersweet melancholy, and without any forced sentimentality.