Life is like a hen house ladder. Shitty and short.
This quote is by Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), a teacher of ancient history at the Barton Academy, a New England boarding school for boys. Nobody likes Hunham. His students hate him for his rigidity, his fellow faculty members find him pompous, and the headmaster despises him. And he smells.
It’s Christmas 1971. All the students go home for the break to be with their families, but there are always a few that can’t go home for various reasons. Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a misfit 15-year-old, gets a call at the last minute from his mother who scheduled an impromptu honeymoon with her new husband and does not want him with her. Hunham is assigned by the headmaster to stay at the school to chaperone the holdovers. There is also Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school’s head cook, who also has no place to go since her only son just died in the war in Vietnam and this is her first Christmas alone.
The unlikely trio has no choice but to come together and make this work for two weeks over the holidays. Whether they planned it or not, they get to know each other, and learn each other’s deepest secrets. In the process, they bond and learn life lessons and all realize that whatever happened in the past happened, and their future is in front of them.
The Holdovers is an emotional holiday movie, a little like The Breakfast Club from 1985 – could it really have been that long ago? – where a group of people of completely different backgrounds is thrown together and eventually create bonds.