Director: John Krasinski
Cast: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Ashley Dyke, Josh Groban, Charlie Day, Randall Park, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
MPAA Rating: (for brief language and some thematic material)
Running Time: 1:28
Release Date: 8/26/16 (limited); 9/2/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 2, 2016
A man, who is well past the point where he should at least have some of his life figured out, realizes that he doesn't have any of his life figured out when he's confronted with a loved one's illness. That's the premise of The Hollars, a movie that is filled with so many selfish characters, taking the form of broad caricatures, that it should be insufferable. Instead, a few really good performances make it partially tolerable, albeit still annoying.
It's one of those all-too-quirky movies that imagines everyone lives in his or her own bubble of an exaggerated character flaw. It's also a movie that believes the answer to all of the conflicts between people and within each person is, not to burst those respective bubbles, but for those bubbles to join together into a giant dome of quirky flaws.
That's partly the lesson of James C. Strouse's screenplay, although this isn't really a movie with a lesson. Everything here is solved by circumstance—an illness, a forthcoming bankruptcy, a birth, the threat of a restraining order because a character sneaks into his ex-wife's house to spend the night with the daughters that he can't support. You know, it's just the usual stuff that completely normal, relatable people have to deal with every day.
That's Strouse's apparent outlook, and maybe the movie would work better without the unpleasant inclusion of that trespassing character, who stalks his ex-wife and technically kidnaps his own children at one point. It might have been slightly more tolerable without the addition of a similarly controlling nurse, who treats our protagonist with odd antagonism because the nurse is now married to the protagonist's ex-girlfriend. It definitely doesn't need the scene where the ex-girlfriend becomes a desperate, clingy soul in need of her ex's touch.
There are only three characters who really matter here: John Hollar (John Krasinski, doing double duty as an actor and director), his ailing mother Sally (Margo Martindale), and his financially struggling father Don (Richard Jenkins). The other characters make it feel as if Strouse needed to fill some sort of eccentricity quota.
John is dating Rebecca (Anna Kendrick, playing the thankless role of a girlfriend, who only exists as the answer to her man's existential angst, with her usual charm). She's pregnant. He's anguished over the impending challenge of needing to be a responsible, worthy-of-pride father.
After a sudden fall in the bathroom, Sally is diagnosed with a sizeable brain tumor. John returns to his family home. Don's business is in trouble, and while he has a difficult time communicating his feelings under normal circumstances, he turns into a blubbering mess at the possibility of his wife's death.
This trio is quite good, both in terms of performance and the dynamic of a slightly estranged family that comes together in a time of crisis. Martindale in particular plays her role in such a way that the character's quirks never feel compulsory. There's a quiet dignity beneath her outspoken exterior that serves as a sort of tranquilizer to any scene in which she's present. Jenkins has a somewhat tougher time of it, since his character is prone to extreme shifts in mood that turn on a dime, but for what he's working with, Jenkins remains a sympathetic presence.
Krasinski's role veers in extremes, too, although all of those shifts are entirely dependent on the machinations of the screenplay. He's good enough in three components of this character, although only one—that of the supportive son—feels natural. His role as a fearful future father just seems like another way to force a melancholy mood upon the proceedings.
His final job is to play the straight man within a series of uncomfortable situations. That means we finally have to confront the characters that create those scenarios.
First and foremost, there's Ron (Sharlto Copley), John's unmotivated brother. The "joke" is his discomforting habit of stalking his ex-wife Stacey (Ashley Dyke). She's finally dating a decent man, a minister named Dan (Josh Groban) who's almost divinely patient with Ron, and the brother cannot stand for it. The specifics of where this subplot goes already have been detailed earlier, so let us leave it by saying that they are as creepy and alienating as they sound. As for the subplot with the nurse (Charlie Day) and John's ex-girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), it's built up to for far too long, considering how anticlimactic the sole encounter between all three of them actually is.
This is all to say that there's a promising story, featuring fine portrayals of relatable characters in crisis, buried among the put-upon excesses here. When The Hollars pulls itself away from those extremes to focus on that plight, it finds some funny, tender moments. It's a credit to Krasinski's control of tone that the swings between sincerity and quirkiness only feel like the unavoidable stumbles of an unfocused screenplay, but that only serves to minimize the frustration with this material.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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