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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

‘The Holdovers’ hits emotions, too slow

Director Alexander Payne speaks to an audience at the premiere of “The Holdovers.” The film’s plot may seem fast-paced at some moments, but the emotional elements drive the story forward. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

“The Holdovers” is essentially “Catcher in the Rye” if Old Spencer really cared about Holden. 

When angsty student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) has to stay at Barton Academy over winter break, the cantankerous teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) has to watch over the boy.  

While clearly the duo end up as friends, the film circumnavigates this connection by having Tully focus on getting out of responsibilities and Hunham trying to bed Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston) and make Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) feel better about the death of her son.

When the film eventually has the pair of misunderstood “holdovers” start to understand each other, it’s painfully obvious the duo’s relationship will improve and then deteriorate. 

Despite the less than innovative plot, “The Holdovers” is a good movie. It certainly isn’t groundbreaking cinema, but it’s a fun watch. The early ‘70s aesthetic is consistently pleasing and feels retro and real – save for the random Honda CRV in one shot that the editor team missed.

The film also retools the standard film intro to fit the ‘70s vibe, mimicking the minimal planes of color with flat text that was common in the era. 

Fuzzy film grain and muted yet bold colors highlight this aesthetic even more, creating an inviting, nostalgic tone.

The film’s true hallmark is its side characters. Randolph’s Mary Lamb is one of the better performances I’ve seen this year – though poor, stereotyped writing can limit the performance at points. Her facial expressions and body language throughout the movie are haunting, exuding the grief of a mother who has lost her son. The moments where she put her foot down are the scenes that drive the movie forward. 

Brady Hepner’s Teddy Kountze is the biggest caricature of an evil bully, and yet the performance somehow works. 

The same thing goes with Preston’s performance as Crane. Yes, it’s pretty contrived – the basic “nice woman who unfortunately has a boyfriend” trope rears its ugly head again. Still, the connection between Hunham and her made me smile, and there were often “aww”s from the audience when they interacted.

Despite these wonderful performances, there were moments when the performances got lost in the dragging start. While most films are heavy in the first two acts, “The Holdovers” is almost entirely the first act. There are two major problems because of this. One, the film drags in the first half. Two, it moves too quickly in the second half.

The first half of the movie acts almost entirely as a set up to the action of the film. While I enjoy patient movies, this one takes its foot off the gas and ends up losing steam. 

When the second half hits, the plot is almost uncatchable, zooming from point to point trying to make up for lost time.

Despite this, the movie felt like a breath of fresh air in today’s movie scene. 

The movie feels entirely like a John Hughes movie, the coming-of-age comedy with a couple problems that you overlook because of your love for the connection between the characters – take “The Breakfast Club” for example. 

While it certainly isn’t an artistic masterpiece, “The Holdovers” feels like a slice of what movies used to be, fun and easy with an emotional bite.

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