Christmas Entertainment

Focus Features Picks Up an Early Christmas Present with The Holdovers

In the biggest distribution deal in TIFF history, Focus Features purchased the rights to a Christmas movie that reteams Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne - The Holdovers.

by | October 4, 2022

Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne for The Holdovers at the Toronto International Film Festival

2023 is already shaping up to be a great year for Christmas movies. First, Amazon Studios announced their upcoming comedy, Candy Cane Lane, starring Eddie Murphy. And now, we can expect another major Christmas movie, this time straight from the Toronto Film Festival.

After a private screening for potential buyers only, Focus Features worked out a whopping $30 million deal with Miramax and CAA Media Finance to purchase the rights to Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers — a comedy-drama taking place during Christmas of 1970. Judging by the early reactions, it looks like we’re in for a heartfelt holiday classic that already has Oscar buzz.

The Holdovers Makes Film Festival History

Even the purchase of The Holdovers is a huge deal all by itself. Not only is this the largest sale in the Toronto Film Festival’s 46-year history, but according to Variety it wasn’t even part of the original lineup. Yet many production, distribution, and streaming companies gathered for the private viewing in hopes of buying it. In the end, NBCUniversal’s Focus Features came out the winner, opening the door to either a theatrical release or the chance to stream on Peacock. And the fact that such a huge purchase was made for a Christmas movie is even better news for holiday lovers everywhere.

A Little More About The Holdovers

The Holdovers stars Paul Giamatti, along with Da’Vine Joy Randolph and True Blood’s Carrie Preston. Its director Alexander Payne is best known for his dramatic comedies such as Citizen Ruth, Election, and About Schmidt. This is also his second collaboration with Giamatti, having worked together on 2004’s Oscar winner Sideways. While his last film Downsizing proved to be a huge disappointment, this newest project is getting lots of praise for its holiday setting, and heartwarming message.

According to IMDB, the plot for Payne’s newest film is as follows:

Nobody likes teacher Paul Hunham (Giamatti) -- not his students, not his fellow faculty, not the headmaster, who all find his pomposity and rigidity exasperating. With no family and nowhere to go over Christmas holiday in 1970, Paul remains at school to supervise students unable to journey home. After a few days, only one student holdover remains; a trouble-making 15-year-old named Angus, a good student whose bad behavior always threatens to get him expelled. Joining Paul and Angus is head cook Mary (Randolph), an African American woman who caters to sons of privilege and whose own son was recently lost in Vietnam. These three very different shipwrecked people form an unlikely Christmas family sharing comic misadventures during two very snowy weeks in New England. The real journey is how they help one another understand that they are not beholden to their past, they can choose their own futures.

This is Payne’s first ever Christmas-related project. As for Giamatti, this is his third Christmas movie to date. You might remember his starring role as a parolee-turned-Christmas tree salesman in 2013’s All is Bright. And let’s not forget about his turn as Old Saint Nick himself in 2007’s Fred Claus.

The Holdovers started filming in Massachusetts in late January 2022, with some reshoots taking place in April 2022. David Hemingson wrote the script and serves as producer alongside Miramax’s Bill Block and Wolfgang Hammer.

As of now, there is no confirmed release date, but it is a good bet that we will see this in theaters December of 2023. With the $30 million price tag, it is unlikely we will see it go straight to streaming, especially since a 2023 release means Focus wants to build buzz behind the film.

The Elf Squad is already looking forward to seeing this next Christmas!