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The Holdovers: To New England winter

February 23, 2024

Sophia Nicholls

I like how quiet it gets. It is lonely, but being on campus during Thanksgiving break can still feel like a nice break away from regular Bowdoin life. I have never gone back home for Thanksgiving during my time at Bowdoin; my family and I decided it wasn’t worth the cost of two cross-country flights from San Diego to Portland for me to spend only three days home in the California sun. I wander around the empty campus, waiting for classes to restart and eventually end so I finally can make my way back home for winter break.

“The Holdovers,” director Alexander Payne’s latest, is many things: an instant Christmas classic, a New England movie, even a Bowdoin movie (and not just because our very own Professor of Theater Davis Robinson is in the film). The more times I watch the movie, the more certain I grow that post-graduation, I will sit down and watch it whenever I miss this place. Let me explain.

The movie follows cranky Classics teacher Mr. Hunham (Paul Giamatti) of Barton Academy, a privileged all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. He gets saddled with the job of supervising the ‘holdovers’: the students who for whatever reason are unable to join their families and have to stay at school during winter break. And so Hunham has to supervise Angus (Dominic Sessa), a frustrated super-senior dreading spending time stuck in the middle of nowhere. Angus looks for any way to slip Hunham’s leash and have some fun: breaking into the cafeteria fridges for some ice cream, sneaking away to play piano in the empty school chapel, trying to convince Hunham to let him drive out to … hold for emphasis … Boston! The premier destination for all disgruntled New England students.

At one point, Hunham chases Angus through the halls of Barton, and there are bits here and there that struck me as scenes I could come across in Hubbard, Moulton or Sills. There’s that feeling of being stuck in your tiny campus and suffocated by your course load, looking to get away from the quaintness and go to a place where capital-L Life happens. Then there’s the New England winter—it wouldn’t be a Christmas movie without it. Everyone is bundled up, and everything is dusted over in a layer of snow. It’s cozy.

Last week, I slipped on the snow, fell flat on my butt and was instantly infuriated. I thought that in my final semester at Bowdoin, I’d finally be able to overcome my SoCal aversion to a proper winter. But as much as I’ve struggled in my four years here in making my way through the cold, I can’t help but say it makes being indoors all the more special. Everything that would otherwise seem a little boring becomes a little cozier: brewing tea, lounging around with a book, just huddling in your bed covers.

“The Holdovers” understands the most important thing about winter: the pricelessness of good company. Hunham and Angus are also joined by Mary (Da ‘Vine Joy Randolph), the school’s cafeteria manager, who is experiencing her first Christmas since the death of her son. It’s a talky movie, where the three of them spend time laughing, arguing with and learning from each other. Though without others to spend the holidays with, they don’t let themselves wallow in bitterness. They engage with each other, talk to each other and discover more about the people around them. Share a meal, or more than just one, with a friendly face.

My three Bowdoin Thanksgivings have all featured wonderful meals and even better company. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to dine at the homes of my professors and meet new faces from around the College, Brunswick and students I had yet to meet. And it’s always been cozy. To experience good food and conversation, to escape from the loneliness of being away from your family. To then thank your hosts for everything, and walk back in the cold with a new friend, watching your steps to make sure you avoid an icy patch. And to stuff your gloved hands into your jacket pockets and feel a little warmer just for that.


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