The Holdovers (Blu-ray)

A cranky history teacher at a remote prep school is forced to remain on campus over the holidays with a troubled student who has no place to go.

January 2, 2024 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Alexander Payne has given us some memorable films over the years. I remember watching Citizen Ruth back in my film class in college and a few years later his satire – Election with a then up-and-coming Reese Witherspoon. Perhaps his greatest commercial and critical hit was 2004’s ode to wine – Sideways. The movie gave wine-lovers something to relate to and even a line in the film impacted the sales of Merlot for several years (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know why). Suffice it to say that his films are decidedly ‘against the grain’ and that’s fine by me. With The Holdovers, Payne has once again teamed with Paul Giamatti, hoping to reclaim some of the nostalgia from their previous pairing. Did it work? Let us find out.

Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) has the dubious task of remaining at a fancy prep school where he’s supervising a few students that aren’t returning home for the holidays. He doesn’t seem to like the students and refers to them with derogatory names like “degenerates” or “reprobates.” He’s not alone, though, as the cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), is there as well. She’s grieving over the death of her son in Vietnam. Lastly we’ve got Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a troubled student who hides behind his smartass remarks. Naturally we know that these three will form an odd bond over the holiday break. We’re privy to some personal issues that surface and begin to find some resolution, looking at life as a whole and realizing that not everything is perfect.

If you’re a fan of any one of Alexander Payne’s films, perhaps Downsizing withstanding, then this one is for you. It’s the same character study that’s worked in several of his other films and the cast nails their respective parts. It’s not the fastest-moving film and at 133 minutes, it’s a pretty significant investment of the viewer’s time, but it’s a worthwhile investment. The dialogue is snappy and if you can get acclimated to the 70’s vibe of it (well it’s more than a vibe, since the movie did take place in the 70’s) you’ll have a lot of fun. Giamatti is excellent in his role and I’m sure that’s what Payne was after. I could go on, but the point has been made. You already know if this is your cup of tea or not.

Video: How’s it look?

I recently watched a few movies from the 70’s and realized how devoid of color most are. I realize that it was a sign of the times, but with The Holdovers, it seems to echo those films made decades ago. Is this a good thing? I suppose that depends on how you view color in a movie. The school setting of the film lends itself to some browns, orange and rather lackluster colors that seem, to me, to epitomize the color scheme. Contrast this with some of the outdoor shots with stark white snow, overcast skies and the like. It’s a good-looking picture without actually being a good-looking picture (if that makes sense). The 1.85:1 AVC HD encode does have some modern attributes that make it stand out, though. Detail is tack sharp, black levels are consistent and so forth. If a movie that’s meant to look dated is your thing, you’ll be in heaven. If not, ignore it – it’s a movie.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Now here’s something I haven’t typed in a while. This contains a DTS HD Master Audio 3.0 mix. Yep, you read that right folks – 3.0. That’s a front, center and left channel when a lot of folks out there have 11 speakers. Sadly, 8 of those are going to go to waste when putting this in the player. Truthfully, that’s all that’s really needed. Payne’s films aren’t really that audio heavy and I’m guessing in an effort to re-create the 70’s “vibe”, they felt that a simple and standard track would do the trick. I guess they could have gone the Woody Allen route and just done mono, but at least here we get a few additional channels. It serves its purpose, but don’t expect to wake the neighbors with this one.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • The Cast of The Holdovers – Essentially that. We get a few sound bytes from the cast and crew of the film as they gush on what it was like to work with one another and, of course, Alexander Payne.
  • Working with Alexander – More of the same from above. Truthfully, these could and should have been merged into one featurette. But I guess they wanted another bullet point on the back of the box.
  • Deleted Scenes  – Five total including an alternate ending, each of which have an introduction by director Alexander Payne.

The Bottom Line

Alexander Payne’s films aren’t for everyone. But for those that enjoy his rather offbeat style, The Holdovers is more of the same as what we’d expect from the acclaimed filmmaker. Universal’s disc looks and sounds good, though the extras are a bit spartan. I’d suspect that we’ll see a 4K version, possibly with some more supplements, in the near future.

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