Academy Award-winning director Alexander Payne stands out as one of my favourite directors who captures the pain, family struggle, friendship, and life itself in a unique but powerful and compelling way, The Holdovers is no different he manages to bring it all together with this stellar cast. Paul Giamatti delivers another strong and meaningful performance, Giamatti’s expressions alone in this film will have you laughing and crying, alongside Dominic Sessa who made his cinematic debut as Angus Tully, and to be honest what a powerful performance for a newcomer, in awe of just how good he was. Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s portrayal as a grieving mother will stir emotions within, between the loss and the heartbreak you will be sympathetic to all these characters in the end.

The choice to have it set in the backdrop of 1970 was perfect, the set pieces were perfect, and you truly felt like it was made in that era, I also really recognized some of the shot selections many directors don’t use anymore, but Alexander Payne uses them to make this movie stand out, soundtrack choice was great, really added to the power of the emotions you will feel in this film.

The Holdovers

2023’s best Christmas movie arrives in South Africa a bit late for Christmas, however, this is more than a Christmas movie, it tells the story of Professor Paul Hunham (Giamatti) who is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students, where many adventures unfold, but eventually forms an unlikely bond with one of them a smart but troubled student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa). The trio is complete with Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) the school’s head cook, who has just lost her only son in Vietnam, Da’Vine’s portrayal as a mother who has lost everything was hard to watch as it will tug at your heartstrings.

The principal Dr. Woodrup (Andrew Garman), who is enraged at Hunham for failing one of the wealthiest boys, is one of the people who despises him the most. In an attempt to punish him, Dr. Woodrup arranges for Hunham to take care of the “holdovers,” the students who are unable to return home for the Christmas break.

Throughout the movie, and in the early parts there are a few students who are part of the holdover group…but a few days into the holdover at the school, the wealthy father of one of the students arrives by helicopter and agrees to take the five students on the family’s ski trip as long as their parents permit them to leave campus, that is where Angus Tully‘s main story begins.

Angus’ mother and stepfather don’t want him over the holidays and break his spirit, the early days with Hunham and Mary go as well as you would expect, however as the story develops they start to understand one another and begin to form a real bond. Mary is reminded every day of what she has lost, and the prospect of her first Christmas without her child is paralyzing, she drinks to numb the pain…but in one scene in the movie, she shows how grief can be debilitating and to deal with it you need friends and family to get you through it.

The Holdovers is a consistently smart, funny movie about people many of us can relate to, one thing Alexander Payne does well is showcase the fragility we all have and how we all want the same thing, family and friendship.

This review was filed, after the media pre-screening at United International Pictures SA

The Holdovers arrives in South African Cinemas on 9 February.


The Holdovers is Rated R for language, some drug use, and brief sexual material.



Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham

Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully

Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb

Carrie Preston as Lydia Crane

Gillian Vigman as Judy

Dan Aid as Kenneth

Colleen Clinton as Mrs. Cavanaugh

Dustin Tucker as Professor Rosensweig

Bill Mootos as Professor Endicott

Director – Alexander Payne

Writer – David Hemingson

Cinematographer – Eigil Bryld

Editor – Kevin Tent

Composer – Mark Orton