The Hollars (2016) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief language and some thematic material
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day, Josh Groban, Randall Park, Ashley Dike
Small role: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mary Kay Place
Director: John Krasinski
Screenplay: James C. Strouse
Review published September 25, 2016
Directed by star John Krasinski, his second such effort, The Hollars is yet another well-meaning dramedy about yet another financially and emotionally sulking big-city resident who returns small-town home to his dysfunctional family to care for an family member with a terminal disease and ends up finally finding meaning in life (I'm seeing this just a week after screening Other People, which features an identical premise and semi-comic tone). In this one, it's the man's mother who has been discovered to have an advanced-stage brain tumor that needs immediate removal, with Krasinski (13 Hours, The Wind Rises) playing the role of bored office worker and would-be graphic novel author John Hollar, who moved to New York and is currently awaiting the birth of a baby with his well-to-do girlfriend, Becca (Kendrick, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates - a pregnant woman is always a sure sign of what will happen at the end in films like these). He receives a call to return to his Midwest home (filmed in Mississippi) to be there for his mother Sally's risky but crucial brain surgery, where he is greeted by his financially struggling plumber father, Don (Jenkins, Bone Tomahawk), and his recently laid-off brother Ron (Copley, Hardcore Henry), who hasn't yet been able to move on from his divorce.
As far as those fantasy-land scenarios, working from an original script from James C. Strouse (who already has been down this same road before with 2005's Lonesome Jim), The Hollars introduces push-button manipulation in order to draw out instinctive reactions to the audience. Every character in the film is quirky and comical - the kind of family that would feel right at home nestled into a run-of-the-mill sitcom. It's less than 90 minutes long, feeling like a three-episode run of a TV show, except with a strong cast of character actors that occasionally sell their limited characterizations as real, lived-in personas. Unfortunately, even at that relatively short run time, there are a few too many side story threads that are there to bolster themes, but end up distracting, such as a major detour involving Sally's overbearing nurse, Jason (Day, Vacation), who happens to be the husband to John's ex, Gwen (Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane), who just may still harbor feelings for her former beau, resulting in the film's most contrived of scenes, among a great many.
Howver, for as clichéd and artificial as the first hour or so plays, The Hollars manages to gain some traction as a moving story in the final half hour, perhaps bolstered by heavier use of its esteemed veteran players, Margo Martindale (who delivers in a stunningly convincing, heart-wrenching moment of pre-surgery panic) and Richard Jenkins, who may be even more nervous about the potential of Sally's condition than she is. If the film had been more about these characters and less about the comparatively uninteresting younger brothers whose lives are in a state of perpetual stagnation, we might have a good movie to boast. It also would have helped to bring out the drama of the situation, and spend less time on broad humor such as silly slap-fights, a scene of a man stalking his ex while using large binoculars right across the street (and in full view) of her home, and forced injection of stereotypes regarding the nationality and martial-arts fighting skills of their Asian surgeon.
The Hollars is comfort food for those who want an occasional laugh or a few tears welling up, but, as a movie, it traverses on a well-worn path that many, often better, movies have been before. Like the family at the heart of the movie, The Hollars has trouble keeping it all together, though there are individual moments in which it manages to find its way.
©2016 Vince Leo