“The Holdovers” Review: Da’Vine Joy Randolph Shines in a Realistic Portrayal of Grief

the holdovers review

You Can stream ‘The Holdovers’ on Peacock

In “The Holdovers,” director Alexander Payne takes on various levels of grief during the holidays. The films focuses on a cantankerous anti-hero, Professor Hunham (played by Paul Giamatti), overseeing students stuck at a New England prep school during Christmas break. The film, set in 1970, introduces characters dealing with loss, privilege, and the challenges of forging connections.

Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of Professor Hunham aligns with his comfort zone of playing grumpy characters with relatable gripes and witty rejoinders. The film navigates the lives of the holdovers, including Angus (Dominic Sessa) and the cafeteria manager Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is mourning her son lost in the Vietnam War.

From the outset, Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of Professor Hunham grabbed my attention. His grumpy yet relatable character brought a familiar charm, with Giamatti delivering witty rejoinders and showcasing his knack for playing characters with genuine gripes. The film’s 1970s setting added a nostalgic touch, reminiscent of Payne’s earlier works like “Sideways.”

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However, it was Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s performance as Mary, the cafeteria manager mourning her son lost in the Vietnam War, that truly left a lasting impact. Randolph’s nuanced portrayal of muted agony and trembling joy added depth to the narrative, making Mary’s grief feel palpable and real. Her performance is another reason as she’s one to watch in Hollywood.

Mary’s interactions with Giamatti’s Hunham and the young student, Angus (played by Dominic Sessa), created a trio of characters whose stories resonated on multiple levels.

Dominic Sessa, in his film debut, showcased a striking screen presence. The film’s exploration of loss, privilege, and unexpected connections felt both familiar and fresh, thanks to the strong ensemble cast and David Hemingson’s thoughtful script.

As the story unfolded, “The Holdovers” seamlessly blended moments of sharp comedy with tender interactions, creating a moving and funny narrative. The film’s ability to balance humor with poignant moments made it a standout addition to Payne’s filmography. The supporting cast, including Carrie Preston, Jim Kaplan, Gillian Vigman, Tate Donovan, and Joe Howell, added to the film’s overall charm.

“The Holdovers” stands out for its warmth and genuine affection for its characters. The film’s simplicity and sensitivity were a welcome return to the director’s roots after the more complex “Downsizing.” It felt like Payne, with each frame, was inviting the audience to share in the characters’ joys and sorrows, creating an emotional connection that lingered long after the credits rolled.

“The Holdovers” reminded me of the power of storytelling in capturing the essence of the human experience. Randolph’s powerful performance, coupled with the film’s timeless themes, ensured that “The Holdovers” left a lasting impression and secured its place among my favorite films of 2023. As well as a must-watch during the holiday season.

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