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The Conservative Critic

Is The Holdovers An Instant Classic?



After a brief stint in theaters, The Holdovers is now available to stream at home. Following Paul Giamatti (Sideways) as an elite prep-school teacher, Paul Hunham, tasked with staying over the holidays with students who aren’t going home. He is joined by his fellow chaperone, Mary Lamb played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Only Murders in the Building) and his primary ward, Angus Tully played by newcomer Dominic Sessa.

The film has been widely lauded by critics and making the rounds as a plausible Best Picture contender for the Oscars in 2024. However, a lot of the applause seems to mention a “come back” for Director, Alexander Payne who is a longtime favorite of Hollywood critics whose work includes the award winning Sideways, Paris Je T’aime and Descendants. Payne hasn’t directed anything of note since Downsized in 2017 which was not well received by either critics or audiences. 

When a favorite returns to his old form, often critics find nostalgia in their memory of films past and the politics of that friendship and loyalty can often bleed over into the assessment of the content. 

That being said, by-and-large, audiences also seem to have enjoyed The Holdovers. 

But what does the Conservative Critic think? Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And is it liberal propaganda? 

The Conservative Critic Meter Check: The Holderovers 

Overall Rating: Tired

The Holdovers is exactly as it’s titled: a holdover story from a time not as far gone as the film may think. Set in the 1970s and adequately dressed as such, the story laments the pains and ailments almost entirely of the own making of the privileged men in which it follows. It adds in a token much sadder story about someone who lost a lot more at no fault of her own and the addition feels exactly as it is: self congratulatory and patronizing. While it’s okay to explore the emotional journeys of rich boys at boarding school and their academic leaders (plus some plucky sad story from a token poor), it’s not exactly new ground. The film is a watery amalgam of films like With Honors, Dead Poets Society, Mona Lisa Smile, The Emperor’s Club, and Mr. Holland’s Opus. I could go on. The film’s of this kind are plentiful and while some of them are masterpieces or classics, the tropes are tedious and The Holdover did absolutely nothing to tell it’s own story using the familiar formulas. 

Despite the critical salvation, it is not Giamati’s best role or anywhere close. The characterization is derivative and heavy handed. 

It’s a tired story full of tired tropes with a tedious pace and it really is hardly worthwhile at all. 

Is it entertaining? 

Rating: Hardly 

The movie is extremely slow and covers almost no new ground in the entire story. It is very clear who the characters are and what they are dealing with from the moment we meet them to the conclusion. There are a few smile worthy attempts at humor but every jaunt off topic feels shoe-horned and the depth of the melancholy is not enough to be emotionally interesting but it is enough to make it maudlin and bland.

Does it have intellectual/artistic value? 

Rating: Less than it thinks

This movie really thinks it’s something. The Holdovers is the film equivalent of someone who actually did go to an elite boys prep school. They really think that is something super special and will probably be rewarded despite lack of merit. The story is extremely done. Rich boy feels sad because of dad problems and mommy isn’t making him a priority. Quirky academic with a crusty demeanor and heart of gold bonds with boy. Token poor shows them the meaning of true struggle (only kind of, they still are very sorry for themselves). Christmas is saved. It is infuriatingly formulaic with nothing special to give it its own voice. 

All of the performances are perfectly adequate, the best being that of Randolph who actually comes close to achievement in her depiction of a grieving mother. There’s nothing wrong with Giamati’s performance or Sessa’s. There was just nothing spectacularly right with them. 

The idea of making a blue Christmas melancholy unfinished sad sack film has been exhausted and The Holderovers lays down on top of it. 

Is it liberal propaganda?

Rating: Not really

Academia is adequately criticized while being simultaneously celebrated. Rich people are allowed to pout. Minor discussions of racial prejudice. All together relatively straight forward. 


The Holdovers is fine. It was not my taste. 

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