THE HOLLARS Review

John is Jim and Jim is John and in his new movie, The Hollars, John is simply John. We're talking about John Krasinksi of course who parlayed his likable everyman gig on The Office for nine seasons into a brand all its own with which he will now try to both break (13 Hours) and embrace (The Hollars). In Krasinski's second directorial effort what we have is your standard tale of a white man who's been given little if nothing to overcome in this society other than his own emotions and how he deals with such emotional conflicts when his mother falls ill in the small town he ran away from long ago. It is in returning to this not only small town, but the man's hometown that we know our protagonist will learn lessons that might help him deal with his mental constipation. Naturally, there is a cast of quirky family members who are designed to be specific in certain ways, but just broad enough in others so that we may all find someone to relate them to in our own families. In venturing back to his homestead John with the titular last name rather than Krasinski comes to learn things about his parents and his other family members that he'd never been privy to before; intimate and mostly ugly details he doesn't necessarily want to know or see, but as something of the family savior he finds it his responsibility to try and put them back together. It is in this idea, this story arc that The Hollars attempts to differentiate itself from this genre of defeated middle aged men returning to their roots to remember who they really are by reminding themselves of where they came from. It is in this idea that the one who fled to search for more is the one who fled not wholly out of ambition, but also from the pressures imbued upon them by their clan. In The Hollars, John is the only character whose life is fairly average-he really has little to complain about aside from the fact he may not be where he imagined himself professionally at this point, but otherwise he lives in New York City and has a rich/hip girlfriend in Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) who is expecting their first child. The guy more or less has his stuff together sans a few emotional shortcomings, but it is in these emotional shortcomings that the crisis drives him to some interesting and introspective places that are hinted at through his re-connections with his hometown, but that Krasinski brushes over too broadly for them to really resonate instead resorting to genre cliché's to round out his movie.

Jason (Charlie Day), Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and John (John Krasinski) share an awkward dinner together.
The film opens by introducing us to Sally and Don Hollar (Margot Martindale and Richard Jenkins) who live a peaceful existence somewhere on the outskirts of a city in Ohio or Mississippi, It could really be either one or anywhere in between-that's how broadly specific The Hollars is able to be in that aforementioned trait of being somewhat conniving in its attempts to make sure everyone in the audience will recognize some aspect or persona present here. Sally and Don's oldest son, Ron (Sharlto Copley), is now living with them after his marriage has recently fallen apart. Ron is a mess as he still wants to see and spend time with his two daughters and maybe even his ex-wife, but she has clearly moved on given she's now dating the local youth pastor, Reverend Dan (Josh Groban). To make things worse Ron was fired from his job with the fact he worked for his father only making that worse as well. It seems Ron was fired for confronting his boss/father about the sinking of their business which Don doesn't have the gall to admit is actually going under. The fact that it is and that this means not only will Ron be out of a job, but Don as well is only worsened when Sally suffers a seizure and has to be admitted to the hospital for a brain tumor. There were signs of her failing health of course, but Sally seems the type to tough things out than admit defeat and Don simply dismissed symptoms like blindness in one eye and temporary paralysis as side effects of Sally's weight. The revelation that Sally has a baseball-sized tumor on her brain brings home Krasinski's John for the first time in ages as well as apparently his first contact with his family in some time as he has no idea of Ron's family situation or their father's business predicament. He is also bewildered when his mother's nurse (Charlie Day) is more than hostile toward him only to learn that Day's nurse named Jason is now married to John's high school sweetheart and the seeming great love of his young life, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Gwen and Jason now have a child, but there seem to be some issues there that would give John an easy way back in were it not for the fact he's in a serious relationship with Kendrick's Rebecca and knows she's the right one for the man he's become rather than the boy he was when he was with Gwen. Still, home towns and old memories will make you wonder as many crazy things as it will teach you life lessons. Or so we've been told.

The problem with The Hollars is not that it's telling a well-worn story about familiar characters with quirks that feel tired, but that none of it is conveyed or executed in interesting or original ways. Much of these issues stem from the script by Jim Strouse (Grace is Gone, People Places Things) whose dialogue is awkward and stilted with as much being made apparent in the first scene between Krasinski and Copley who can't convincingly relay the familial relationship such conversation is meant to inspire. They are brothers and thus are supposed to feel inherently close, but have become distanced by life. When things don't click upon first sight, but instead are pushed forcefully to the brink of awkwardness thanks mainly to Copley's Ron's irrationality the entire film takes on this tone of inconvenience making us all feel uncomfortable which, if you have a so-called wacky family, is the last thing you want to feel when around one another. Of course, some will argue that's what family is-being uncomfortable around those we're supposed to be closest to-and yet, nothing about The Hollars doesn't feel manufactured. At least when one is uncomfortable or awkward around family they only tend to see on holidays there is a standard of pleasantries so as to not get too interested in one another-keeping the relationships at a certain surface level. Krasinski wants to dive deep into the familial dynamics of the Hollar clan though, so when it is almost immediately apparent that even Krasinski's incredibly skilled and stacked cast won't be able to overcome Strouse's artificial dialogue and contrived situations it's difficult to remain hopeful for what the rest of the movie holds. Maybe it is that The Hollars sets up our expectations in such a way that the fact the movie seems to improve from this point on was only inevitable, but either way the film tends to find its groove a half hour in to the proceedings. This "groove" or more natural flow if you will, is largely due to the presence of Martindale and her ability to make the schmaltzy feel genuine. While her character of Sally is more or less a trope if there ever was one in that she is this sassy matriarch that, while living her prime in a time when the man was assumed the head of the household, it was always clear she wore the pants. And yet, it is her performance and her interactions with Krasinski's John that give us the most substance by way of why John has come to this moment of crisis where he feels inadequate in serving all those that have come to count on him.

Don (Richard Jenkins), Ron (Sharlto Copley), John and Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) wait for news about their wife and mother.
"It's terrifying this late in life to find out what you should have done," Martindale's Sally tells Krasinski's John at one point. This is one of the few lines in the script that feels honest and inspired to the point it makes the viewer want to sit up and consider what more the movie might actually be trying to say. It is this idea of inadequacy that, once hinted at, spreads through the film like an uplifting idea by means of a bleak realization. It is in the crux of the film, when Martindale's facade finally fails her that she truly delivers, but even more telling in the scene just before she is taken back to surgery when she hugs each of the three men in her life that she places the most responsibility on John, her youngest, thus essentially telling us why John has come to feel the way he has both about himself and why he has avoided coming home for so long. These realizations coupled with this theme that we never really know anyone else other than ourselves-including family-as much as each individual knows themselves is something that keeps reoccurring with the film seeming to want to comment on how scary that truth ultimately is, but it never takes the plunge. Krasinski does let certain key scenes go on just a touch longer than we've been conditioned to-allowing us to see characters exist past the expected beats-reinforcing this idea of never fully knowing the lives of others, but it is too little too late in a film that could have used more distinct directional decisions and a script that honed more of its characters for smaller, intimate moments rather than the succession of big sentimental ones we're treated to. That said, the cast does the best they can with what they have to work with-especially in some of the more minor supporting roles. Day's temperament is perfect for the situation his character has become involved in and while I like Winstead as a performer I was happy to see the film not harp too much on the Gwen subplot. Rather, on the opposite end of the spectrum The Hollars makes Rebecca the most selfless of souls and Kendrick plays her with such heartfelt earnest that it's impossible not to root for her. Groban, in his limited screen time, is also pretty great and while this is ultimately a film that sensationalizes how things are supposed to be in life versus how things are and how they could be better than how things were supposed to be it is pleasant enough melodrama that I wasn't totally put-off, but sometimes even charmed by it.