“The Hollars” is a movie I really wanted to like. It is a very earnest story featuring a family meant to mirror our own, but the movie doesn’t take long to become painfully earnest as it veers from sitcom-like humor to somber drama with real uneasiness. John Krasinski not only stars in “The Hollars,” he also directed it, and while he is aiming for the heights of “Terms of Endearment,” he instead gives us a film which is very uneven and not as satisfying as he wants it to be.
It’s another day in the Hollar household as Jason (Sharlto Copley) finds the bathrooms occupied by his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) and his dad Don (Richard Jenkins) to where he literally has to find a pot to piss in. But Sally suddenly falls down and (yes, I’m going to say it) can’t get up, and both men realize she is not suffering from the common cold. When Sally is diagnosed with a brain tumor, her other son, John (John Krasinski), comes straight from New York City to be by her bedside. Of course, John has problems of his own as he struggles to get his career as a graphic artist off the ground while working a job he is not at all enthused about, and his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), is expecting their first child. Suffice to say, the Hollar family has a number of problems to deal with, and those problems are only going to get worse before they can possibly get better.
Now “The Hollars” gets off to a good start with a scene which is both comical and dramatic as Don and Jason discover Sally lying immobile on the bathroom floor, and what at first looks like a joke turns into something very serious. The look on Jenkins’ face is unforgettable as Don slowly realizes he may be on the verge of losing his beloved wife. Till death us do part is always part of those marriage vows, but we are never prepared to deal with death when it comes knocking at the door.
But when John arrives at the hospital and reunites with his family, everything suddenly descends into what feels like a sitcom, and the laughs feel as forced as Don’s crying. Jenkins has been and always been a great character actor, but seeing him essentially emote here feels criminal. No one should ever make Jenkins emote, ever!
From there, “The Hollars” introduces characters who appear to come from different universes, and when they collide everything feels off. Their acting styles don’t mesh well with one another, and it feels like they belong in different movies. Charlie Day co-stars as Jason, a hospital nurse married to John’s ex-girlfriend, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, completely wasted in a frivolous role), and his performance is so broad to where I couldn’t wait for him to get off the screen. Even more disappointing is Sharlto Copley whose crazed energy which served him so well in “District 9,” “Elysium” and “The A-Team” movie is misplaced here as his character comes off as a stubborn jerk. His character should be empathetic, but Copley is unable to render him as such.
“The Hollars” works best when it grounds its characters in a reality we understand. As an actor, Krasinski has some nice moments, especially when he relives a childhood memory of swinging on a tire by the river. Singer Josh Groban is surprisingly good as a local preacher and succeeds in making him the most level-headed character to be found in this movie. And Anna Kendrick shows up in a few scenes and proves to be as delightful a presence as always.
But if there is anything which makes “The Hollars” worth the price of admission, it is Margo Martindale. She has long since proven herself to be one of the best actors working today as she can take the smallest moment in a play, television show or movie and make it completely unforgettable. Throughout this movie she works wonders as Sally faces an end no one is ever fully prepared for, and her performance is piercing in its emotional honesty. Just watch her as she talks about the time she visited the Fox Theater; she renders this moment so vividly that it’s as if she is painting with words instead of brushes.
Coming out of “The Hollars,” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Krasinski. This is clearly a project he put his heart and soul into, but he is unable to balance out the comedic and dramatic elements in the story. Making a movie like this is very tricky because all the characters need to be on the same plain of existence, and he’s unable to accomplish that. More often than not, the movie veers over to the comedic side but the laughs don’t come when you want them to. When it veers to the dramatic, scenes end up feeling emotionally forced which just torpedoes the impact Krasinski hoped it would have.
Still, “The Hollars” is not a complete loss as there are things audiences will be drawn to, and those who have been in situations like this family are more than likely to be moved by what they see. And for all its flaws, this movie does have something in it which is truly great: Margo Martindale’s performance.
Seriously, better luck next time Krasinski. I’ll be rooting for you.
* * ½ out of * * * *
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.