A curmudgeonly prep school professor babysits the left-behinds


Playing at the M.V. Film Society this week is “The Holdovers,” an awardwinning comedy about a crew of preppies stuck at Barton Academy, their New England boarding school. They end up there for the Christmas holidays with a crabby classics professor in charge. Starring Paul Giamatti at his best as pedagogue Paul Hunham, it also features an appealing Da’Vine Joy Randolph as caustic-humored Mary Lamb, the school’s cook. This successful character-driven comedy is directed by two-time Oscar winner Alexander Payne.

Local viewers are likely to recognize the vintage New England settings where “The Holdovers” was filmed: Groton; Northfield/Mount Herman; Deerfield; St. Marks; and public school Fairhaven. Angus (Dominic Sessa) stands out as troublemaker among the four other students stuck at Barton. Illustrating his uptight academic approach, Professor Hunham enforces a rigid, five-day-a-week regimen of school programs, even though it’s vacation time. When one set of wealthy parents offers to include the school holdovers on their ski trip, Angus is unexpectedly the only one left behind at Barton, along, of course, with Professor Hunham and Mary Lamb.

After he’s chased through the school by Hunham, Angus ends up in the hospital with a dislocated shoulder. At the start of the holidays, Hunham agrees to take Angus on a field trip to Boston. In a subplot while there, caustic Mary visits her pregnant sister in Roxbury and works to come to terms with her son’s death. In Boston, Hunham and Angus bond over ice skating and a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. While there, they meet up with Hunham’s Harvard classmate Hugh Cavanaugh. Hunham fibs about his successful career to impress Cavanaugh, when in fact, he reveals to Angus, Hunham was kicked out of Harvard for plagiarism.

When Angus sneaks out again, Hunham catches him, but in sympathy agrees to take him to visit his father. The visit, a disaster, nevertheless reveals to Angus another of his professor’s more humane qualities. The success of “The Holdovers” comes in the ways the characters reveal themselves, providing well-earned laughter.

Information and tickets for “The Holdovers” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.