John Hollar (John Krasinski) is having a bit of a rough time in his life. He’s struggling to make something of his career as a graphic designer, so he now works in retail, hoping to make something from nothing, and now, having impregnated his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), he doesn’t seem to know if he’s ready for that or not. Either way, John’s going to have to grow up real soon as he finds out that his mom (Margo Martindale) has brain cancer.
Feeling as if it’s finally time for him to go home and see the family he left behind so many years ago, John has to put up with a lot – despite his mom actually being all fine and dandy, all things considering, everyone else in his family seems to be crumbling. John’s brother (Sharlto Copley) is still reeling over his divorce and enstrangement from his kids, while his father (Richard Jenkins), is about to lose his company and file for bankruptcy. Not to mention that one of his mom’s nurses, who also happens to be an old foe from high school (Charlie Day), is now married to his high school girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). So yeah, it’s an odd time for John, but he’s going to do whatever he can to make out as humanly sane as possible.
A movie like The Hollars is tailor-made for Sundance. It’s a family dramedy that features a constipated, bored and confused mid-30’s guy having to go and revisit his old friends and family back home, while also having to put up with each and every other person’s issues. And it’s not just that the movie features the plot you’d expect it to have, it’s also equipped with an acoustic-heavy soundtrack, a whole slew of supporting characters that seem to come out of nowhere, and yes, hugs and tears everywhere. It is as Sundance-y as you can get and for that sole reason alone, the Hollars has been a target of many critics’ scathing reviews.
But is it all that bad?
Not really, but it’s also not very good, either. As director, John Krasinski seems to handle all of the comedy and drama just the same; he’s not too heavy on the sappy, emotional moments (with maybe one exception), nor is he as crazy about all of the comedy, either. He sort of just plants the camera down in front of all the action and allows for his cast and crew to do what they do best. Of course, it does take a little bit more energy and spunk to make a movie like this, at the very least, interesting and, unfortunately, The Hollars just doesn’t take off from the ground as it should.
While the movie is most definitely chock full of clichés, sometimes, having those clichés isn’t a death wish; the only reason things become clichés in the first place is because, well, they’re true-to-life as is. In The Hollars, a lot of what we’ve seen done, nearly a hundred times before, from much better movies, happens here and Krasinski doesn’t ever paint it, or spin it in an interesting way that would warrant the clichés staying in there. It’s almost as if Krasinski didn’t really care whether or not he was able to tell an original story, but just wanted to tell a story and leave it at that.
Sure, that’s fine and all, but sometimes, there needs to be a little more effort given.
That said, helping Krasinski out so much is his cast, or most importantly, Margo Martindale as the matriarch of the family and the only one who seems to actually have her crap together, present situations considered. While her role as the wise mother is an old and tired convention, Martindale brings enough heart, emotion and fun to it that almost every scene she’s in, and keeps the movie afloat. It’s almost as if Krasinski knew that he had a troubled product to work with, so automatically thought that the best way to save it all would be to just put the camera on Margo Martindale nearly the whole time. And yeah, as manipulative as it sounds and appears, it still works.
Of course, the rest of the cast is just fine, too, what with Krasinski seeming as if he called up every famous person he has on speed-dial, just in case they didn’t have anything going on in their lives and wanted to work for a day or two. Charlie Day shows up and is nervous the whole time, for some reason; Richard Jenkins has a couple of solid scenes as the patriarch of the family, who seems to be slowly, but surely, unfolding as the movie goes on; Mary Kay Place, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Randall Park have a few scenes, showing that their good pals with Krasinski; Anna Kendrick doesn’t get a whole lot to do as John’s pregnant girlfriend, but is charming and pleasant enough; and yes, oddly enough, Sharlto Copley is okay as the neurotic and socially awkward brother of John’s, who honestly seems like he’s in another movie, let alone, another planet altogether. Still, it’s interesting to see Copley in something that doesn’t concern a whole lot of special-effects and it makes me wonder what else he has to prove to the world.
Maybe there’s more to the world than just The Hollars and for Copley’s sake, I hope that’s true.
Or anybody else’s, honestly.
Consensus: Predictable and conventional to a fault, The Hollars is your typical family dramedy you expect from Sundance, but due to a very talented cast, gets by just ever so slightly.
5 / 10