A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Adversity builds character. Some people offer a persona that hides their suffering, so we may want to consider offering grace rather than judgment for unpleasant behavior. The holiday season can be particularly painful for those who are missing loved ones. Theme of integrity.
Positive Role Models
Mary is suffering an unimaginable loss, not for the first time, but she perseveres. She made sacrifices for her son. Another woman who works at Barton Academy is friendly, thoughtful, and inclusive. Characters influence each other to realize why they behave as they do, and they grow to become better people as a result.
Most students and faculty at the main setting -- an elite New England boarding school in 1970 -- are White males depicted in a neutral or negative light. The economic disparity between academy employees and entitled students is felt throughout. One primary character is a Black woman (Da'Vine Joy Randolph); she's the head of the kitchen staff, a role that plays into stereotypes, but is treated with respect and appreciation by other employees. Other minor Black characters are shown as caring, supportive, positive. One international student is Korean; insight into the challenges he faces attending an almost all-White school is offered. A little-seen character's mental illness has a significant impact on his family members. Male and female characters express emotion and show vulnerability. A disabled veteran is a minor character, but the sacrifices of those who serve are held in high regard by others.
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Violence & Scariness
One student bullies others through mean, racist, classist statements. A fight breaks out with pushing and shoving.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Brief glimpse of a photograph of a topless woman. Ancient art showing two figures in a sexual position. Kiss. Sex worker propositions an adult character. References to pornography, and an adult bookstore is seen on a street. Sexual references and innuendo.
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Strong language/insults throughout, including "ass," "a--hole," "balls," "bitch," "bulls--t," "d--khead," "goddamn," "nut punch," "pr--k," "p---y," and frequent use of "f--k." Teacher insults students quite a bit, using terms like "cretin" and "hormonal vulgarians." An entitled White teen uses racist insults, calling an Asian student "Mr. Moto" and referring to a "rickshaw."
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Products & Purchases
Brands are spotted everywhere for scene setting in the movie's specific era. A brand of liquor is associated with wealth.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens smoke pot and cigarettes. An adult smokes a pipe. Heavy drinking, with brands of beer and alcohol mentioned and seen. Characters drive after drinking. Prescription pills.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that director Alexander Payne designed the boarding school dramedy The Holdovers, which is set in late 1970, to look and sound like it was also filmed in that year. While teens may spark to the story of a prep school student being forced to spend Christmas with his most loathed instructor, Payne's stylistic choice may not connect with them as much. Mature content includes teens flinging lots of profanity, insults, and crude innuendo ("p---y," "d--khead," "nut punch," "f--k," and more) -- but the best slams come from curmudgeonly teacher Mr. Hunham (Paul Giamatti), who uses such eloquent put-downs that they feel like the lost art of the poets. There's heavy drinking throughout (including by underage characters), everyone smokes cigarettes, teens share a joint, and a bag of pot is seen. There are sexual references and the glimpse of a pair of bare breasts in an adult magazine. On the upside, there are messages about adversity building character and a theme of integrity. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
The Holdovers is the most pitiful Christmas movie ever, and that's the point. There's no Santa Claus or seasonal revelry in Payne's character study of three dissimilar people forced to spend the holidays together. It intentionally lacks the joy, sparkle, and pizzazz of what we've come to expect from a "Christmas movie," with the drab 1970 aesthetic matching the characters' bitter mood.
Christmas films often deal in the joy/annoyance of family during the holidays, but Payne takes viewers in an entirely different direction in tone and spirit. Aside from Mary, who's experiencing her first Christmas without her late son, you might not have much empathy for the rest of the characters -- including the students who are stuck at school together. But, over the course of the film, the characters learn to empathize with each other, seeing one another wholly and understanding the pain and difficulty that lies beneath their aggravating behavior. The film nudges us to realize that amid present shopping, parties, travel plans, and other holiday festivities, that time of year can be particularly painful for those who are missing loved ones. Payne uses a story set in the past to show viewers why it's important to give grace to even the Grinchiest among us.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.