Oscars 2024: Da’vine Joy Randolph is the Beating Heart of The Holdovers

Randolph has already won the Golden Globe, Critics' Choice Award, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Award. She has been nominated in the Supporting Actors at the Oscars.
Oscars 2024: Da’vine Joy Randolph is the Beating Heart of The Holdovers
Oscars 2024: Da’vine Joy Randolph is the Beating Heart of The Holdovers

In an interview with Screen International Da’vine Joy Randolph spoke about using her grandmother’s spectacles to find her character, Mary Lamb, in The Holdovers. She said, “Listen, this is about grief and loss. My grandmother is no longer with me. And there were several things about Mary that remind me of her — this sense of being able, despite one’s pain, to be there for others, to be able to get the job done and do it well, while people have no idea what you’re dealing with.” 

Even with her limited screen time, Randolph serves as the stabilising force that grounds The Holdovers. Mary, the head cook at a New England private school, stays on campus during Christmas, playing the buffer between the curmudgeonly teacher (Paul Giamatti) and the rebellious student (Dominic Sessa). Coping with the loss of her son in Vietnam, Mary's grief permeates the film from her very first scene, and it lingers around her every time we see her. She flits between the seven stages of grief — a moment of acceptance followed by a display of rage.

Randolph plays Mary with a heartbreaking vulnerability. Even in the routine moments of supervising the kitchen or watching the Newlywed Game, her eyes are searching for something — her son, an explanation, or some help. Desperation colours her quest to find a way forward, to genuinely be happy for her pregnant sister. In a particularly moving scene, she delicately places tiny baby shoes and clothes in her sister's drawers, her eyes becoming windows into the internal struggle she grapples with. How does a grieving mother celebrate motherhood?

For most of the film, Mary makes a conscious effort to present a composed exterior. When a fellow staff member invites her to a Christmas Eve celebration, she meticulously dons a dress, prepares a plate of brownies, and assumes control of the party's music. However, it is amidst the festivities that she reaches a breaking point. We witness her near the kitchen counter, sobbing into the sink. Her shoes lie discarded on either side of her feet because she is physically unable to bear the weight of her sorrow any longer. It is devastating to see her unravel so publicly. Randolph elicits a visceral response from the audience, you clutch your chest for Mary — if only you could get in there and give her a hug. 

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