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I guess I thought I could make a difference…

I guess I thought I could make a difference…

            I had no idea that The Holdovers would be a warm blanket in the form of a movie. Honestly, I expected drama and heartbreak and I got warmth, softness and love pouring out of the screen. Going in with a mind ready to embrace the vulnerability, I was taken by the most pleasant surprise.

But, uh, the world doesn’t make sense anymore. I mean, it’s on fire. The rich don’t give a shit. Poor kids are cannon fodder. Integrity is a punchline. Trust is just a name on a bank.

            The Holdovers is classified as a comedy-drama, with comedy as the first word. But yours truly didn’t bother to check, hell – I haven’t even seen a single trailer of that film. Written by David Hemingson and directed by Alexander Payne, the movie follows a complex story of a strict teacher of classical studies who was forced to “babysit” a couple of students who had to stay at the boarding school during Christmas. 

Eventually, only one student is being left behind by his friends (saved by one rich dad). But Angus Tully (debuting Dominic Sessa) and Paul Hunham (fantastic Paul Giamatti) are not alone – Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school cafeteria/kitchen supervisor, stays at the school as well. 

Photo by Seacia Pavao/Seacia Pavao – © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED., via IMDb

I love films where each character has their own struggles, fights their own battles but their story wouldn’t be complete without the remaining, seemingly “not fitting” companion. And The Holdovers is a beautiful, textbook example of how our lives intertwine. 

The Romans bathed naked in the freezing Tiber. Adversity builds character, Mr. Tully.

            I watched this film with my mum and at one point she said to me: “I don’t remember the last time I saw you laughing so much”. Because this film was so heartwarmingly funny! Just when I thought a punch would come, there was a twist and a funny line came along. 

Similarly to All of us strangers, this film is a 3-people show, and the rest of the actors are a pleasant blur in the background. The first person we get to know is the teacher – Paul Hunham. He reminded me so much of my grandpa! Oh boy, this thought kept me smiling from ear to ear. Strict but with a hidden warmth, man on a mission and with conviction. 

via IMDb

Paul reminded me of the kind of teacher I dreamed of having – someone who truly wanted to change the world of at least one student. Because that one student could then change someone else’s life and so on. I always wanted to be that kind of teacher but I don’t have the patience. 

            On the other hand, we see someone who is quite the opposite – young, rebellious and cunning student, Angus, who’s only dream is to spend Christmas with his mom and go to Boston. But, since she married someone new, they decided to use the holidays to go on a honeymoon and leave Angus at school instead. 

You got kicked out of Harvard for hitting a guy with a car?

            I am trying to decide which character has the best “transformation” in the film, but before that, let’s talk about Mary – the catalyst. Mary Lamb is (was…) a mom of Curtis who attended this boarding school and then joined the U.S. military. He got killed in the Vietnam War, leaving Mary with grief and loneliness. 

Mary helped Paul to change his view not only on his life, but on the lives he can impact – in this case, Angus’. Through her eyes, Paul finally softeners and accepts the generational differences. Hell, he even lies, even though “Barton men don’t lie”. And Paul realizes why Angus was so defensive and rebellious – he simply wanted to have a family Christmas. 

via IMDb

Angus finally starts to see beyond the tip of his own nose and that is important for someone his age and facing expulsion and getting into a military school. His deeply hidden vulnerability shone through when he was in Boston, visiting his father. This storyline was heartbreaking, but Paul’s reaction was absolutely heartwarming.

            It is truly amazing how our lives influence others and how we can change the perception once we get the full picture. Seems simple enough, right? But do we ever take a moment to think about how people come and go, and what they bring to our souls’ table.

Maybe she’s right. I can’t keep it together. I lie. I steal. I piss people off. I don’t have any friends, real friends. I’ll probably get kicked out of Barton too. And when I do, it’ll be my own fault. 

            We usually only think about people “coming and going” in a negative, depressing manner – they left, they are gone… Why is it so hard to focus on the positives? Yes, someone is no longer part of our life, but they made it better because of this and that. 

Paul, Angus and Mary are the perfect example of “three ships at night”, only temporarily passing each other. Temporarily, but profoundly. The ending is for the audience to write, and in my case, Paul gets to Greece and writes his monograph (or maybe eventually a book?). Angus finishes Barton academy and gets to Harvard, becomes a teacher and never forgets Paul. 

via IMDb

As for Mary… She never forgets her son, but she gets a chance to channel the loads of love in her newborn nephew or niece. I think it would be a nephew. Mary still watches reruns of her beloved TV show and smiles, remembering moments when she watched them with Paul.

You’ve got time to turn things around. Yes, I know that Greeks had the idea that the steps you take to avoid your fate are the very steps that lead you to it, but that’s just a literary conceit. In real life, your history does not have to dictate your destiny.

            Oh that scene was one of my favorites. All these “you cannot change your destiny” concepts used to scare me but now I know that at the end of the day, these are just it – concepts. You can change your career, you can find a new hobby, new passion – it’s not only once given in life. 

Our past does not dictate what will happen in the future, only our actions in the present can do that. So, in a way, if you are holding on to “what was” instead of “what is” and subsequently “what could be”… Well then, you have your answer. 

via IMDb

I, for one, am changing my approach: I no longer hope things will happen/come just the way I want them to. I know they will come, I know they will come just how I want them to. And let me tell you – I don’t remember the last time I felt so light and powerful at the same time.

 I don’t think I’ve ever had a real family Christmas like this before. Thank you, Mary.

            Sadly enough, I am not sure The Holdovers will succeed greatly during the Oscars, but – I will keep repeating it forever – as long as the audiences love it, that’s all it matters. However, if you look at statistics, it got nominated for 207 awards and won 110, so not a bad result at all! 

And the very fact it got nominated in my favorite (and most important) categories: Best Motion Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role and Original Screenplay (plus my not-so-favorite Film Editing) is a big success on its own.

Photo by Seacia Pavao/Seacia Pavao – © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED., via IMDb

This film feels like Belfast to me. It is familiar, like the said warm blanket on a snowy night, embracing you with fluffiness and love. And the cast, oh goodness, what a performance. Once again, filmmakers are proving that less is more – you don’t need a 20-people-strong cast to make an impactful picture.

Hardy, I have known you since you were a boy, so I think I have the requisite experience and insight to aver that you are and always have been penis cancer in human form.

            The technical side with its 70s aesthetic (including the original, vintage logo of Miramax) and the wonderful vibe of that decade was not overwhelming even for my mum – and she prefers the “current times” kind of films. 

via IMDb

I must say that The Holdovers were a delightful surprise, something I never expected to see. And you know what? I really needed this comforting blanket over my tired, slumped shoulders. The weight of work and life was replaced with the hug-like-gravity and warmth. 

            I cannot wait to watch this film with my dad and literally anyone else, especially if they are having a tough day. One of the best movies I’ve watched in my entire life, hands down. My soul felt taken care of and lately that’s the feeling I am looking for in movies… 

One thought on “I guess I thought I could make a difference…

  1. Wspaniale opisane, pełne emocji więc na pewno będę chciała obejrzeć ten film ????

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