The oft-maligned genre of the ‘dysfunctional family dramedy’ is given new life in “The Hollars,” the sophomore directorial effort from actor John Krasinski. There’s not much new territory covered story-wise and some will undoubtedly call the film predictable, but even though you may have t.v. sitcom deja vu, the film rarely feels clichéd. I have to admit the film is weighed down by a very conventional and slightly cheesy final 20 minutes, but the rest of the film is so delightful and insightful that I’m able to overlook it.
When struggling New York artist John Hollar (Krasinski) gets a call that his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) is in the hospital with a sudden emergency, his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) immediately sends him home to Michigan. This is where the ‘been there, done that’ elements of the story kick in: there’s the resentful, divorced older brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) living in their parent’s basement, nearly-bankrupt dad Don (Richard Jenkins), and overeager ex-fiancée Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose new husband (Charlie Day) is also John’s mother’s nurse. The premise may sound like your garden variety sitcom, but the amusing, lively and heartbreaking script from Jim Strouse walks that fine line between humor and tragedy with a bittersweet finesse. This glimpse at love, loss and family somehow manages to remain remarkably relatable and genuine.
I give major credit to the talented cast for creating such a credible onscreen family. These are people you’ll feel as if you know, reminding you of friends or even members of your own family. Much has been said about how incredible Martindale is in this movie, and everyone is right: she is absolutely brilliant and her performance is more than worthy of the considerable acclaim. She’s so great that it’s easy to overlook the brilliant, heartbreaking turns from Jenkins (a true standout as the family patriarch who just can’t cope with his wife’s illness) and Copley (finding perfect balance of tenderness and regret as a compassionate older brother). Krasinski and Kendrick add an air of authenticity as a couple facing their own fears of parenthood, and Day provides a natural comic relief through his trademark relaxed sarcasm. Even Josh Groban, cast as a youth pastor and new companion for Ron’s ex-wife, is more than a little convincing.
This is a small, charming, and awfully touching movie about generations coming together in a crisis. It’s a lovely story about lovely people and delivers a raw, realistic look at the nature of our relationships with our family.
Director John Krasinski‘s sophomore effort in film direction, “The Hollars”, is a huge step forward and a vast improvement on his first directorial outing, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.” Although Mr. Krasinski will forever be known as Jim from “The Office,” movies like this one remind us that he is a man of many talents. His direction is confident and his work is insightful. This film is worthy of your time and notice.
Krasinski plays John, the youngest son in the Hollar family, which is comprised by dad Don (Richard Jenkins), mom Sally (Margo Martindale), and older brother Ron (Sharlto Copley). The Hollars’ world is rocked when the family learns that Sally has a brain tumor. John rushes to his hometown to assist, leaving his very-pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) back home in New York.
Sally is the rock of the family; she’s the one that has held the Hollar men together. Each of the men is going through a crisis, either driven by loss of a job, loss of a relationship, or in the case of John, crippling fear that he will fail Rebecca and their baby once it is born. The Hollar family — each one too proud or stubborn to admit it — needs one another, and it takes Sally’s illness to help remind them of that.
“The Hollars” is an intensely honest look at family, love, and friendship that only rarely rings false. Each of the characters is raw and real in a way that is all-too-familiar. It works because (for most of the film) it doesn’t try to wring false drama out of situations or become saccharine in creating phony situations that lack authenticity. I say “for most of the film” because in the last 5-10 minutes it does make a sharp left turn that feels badly out of place when compared to the rest of the film. That said, the rest of the movie is so well done that I can forgive the detour.