Two solid performances cannot stop ‘The Hollars’ from feeling hollow
Directed by: John Krasinski
Written by: James C. Strouse
“The Hollars” – Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day, and John Krasinski are a collection of hugely-talented actors who can move mountains of movie magic, given the right script and direction. Individually, they have certainly accomplished this with past projects, and now, one spotlight shines on all of them in “The Hollars”.
Although the actors deliver some intriguing moments, “The Hollars” – a film about a dysfunctional family pulling together, when Mom (Martindale) needs them most – inserts light and zany comedic touches, while also introducing` heavy-handed subject matter. The end result? Rather moving the earth, the film randomly and erratically throws rocks of pushy comedy and heavy drama into a quiet lake for 1 hour and 28 minutes.
This movie reminds me of 2015’s “Love the Coopers” which presented another all-star cast coming home, but the occasion was Christmas. Just about every family member in “Love the Coopers” carried emotional wounds that flared during their homecoming, but the script’s mix of comedy and malfunctioning family dynamics never gelled or felt quite right. I remember not believing one single character in that film, and I almost feel the same way here.
Set in an unnamed, small town in Ohio, the Hollar family circles the wagons to support the matriarch, Sally (Martindale), as she suddenly and literally falls ill. Each of the Hollars carry their baggage of distress with them, but I’d not rather give too much away, so I’ll just deliver some brief introductions.
Obviously, Sally could use support but so could her husband, Don (Jenkins), who repeatedly bursts into tears at the thought of his wife’s possible passing. One of their sons, John (Krasinski), flies in from New York City, and his girlfriend (Kendrick) inexplicably arrives a couple days later. John’s brother, Ron (Copley), is already in town, and, in fact, resides in their parents’ basement. Hovering around 40 and living as a dependent, one knows arrested development issues plague Ron, and that storyline forces itself in odd ways.
That’s the problem with most of “The Hollars”. It feels forced, as screenwriter James C. Strouse and director Krasinski shoehorned several recycled ways to create suburban conflict and crammed them into a thin theatrical presentation.
To alleviate the tension, the picture delivers some laughs, such as Ron’s uneasy meeting with his ex-wife’s new boyfriend (Josh Groban), and John’s uncomfortable dinner with his ex-girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her new husband (Day). Copley and Day are asked to delve into cartoonish places, and they execute their individual scenes well, but these moments seem misplaced within the movie’s darker themes.
On the other hand, Krasinski’s camera does capture some wonderful moments which resonate across generations, such as a visit to an old tire swing, a quiet conversation in a soda shop, a nervous twist of a wedding ring, and a touching moment of nurture between mother and son.
Martindale is especially good here and so is Krasinski. Regrettably, the others are confined into one-dimensional characters, and although I enjoyed their efforts in trying to burst from single notes to multiple ones, the screenplay’s artificial landscape can only take them so far.
No, “The Hollars” does not move mountains, but it invites us to skip rocks for 90 minutes. Well, I suppose there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.