The Hollars is the second full-length feature directed by star John Krasinski. Does the dramedy move him into the class of elite actor-directors or will it make audiences want him to just stick to acting?
John Hollar (Krasinski) is living in New York, feeling like his life is going nowhere. He is most certainly not where he expected to be in life and is not doing what he wants to be doing—he’s an artist looking to do a graphic novel. His existential crisis gets that much worse when his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), informs him that his mother, Sally (Margo Martindale) is in the hospital back in his hometown. John returns home to discover that Sally has a brain tumor and requires surgery. On top of that, his father, Don (Richard Jenkins) is on the verge of bankruptcy and losing his business, while John’s brother, Ron (Sharlto Copley), is dealing with the breakup of his marriage and his wife’s new beau, Rev. Dan (Josh Groban). There is also the lingering specter of John’s ex-fiancée, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her husband, Jason (Charlie Day), who happens to be Sally’s nurse. Will John be able to hold his family together while figuring out what he wants out of life?
The Hollars is quite an entertaining film with several very funny moments and nice performances from the cast. However, the tone felt all over the place as the film struggles with whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama. A few moments stuck out as out of place considering the subject matter—at one point, Richard Jenkins starts to cry in the hospital, and I couldn’t tell if he was playing it for laughs or not, just to name one. In conjunction with the wildly disparate tone is Charlie Day’s performance. He felt completely over the top for a subtle film like this. He was, essentially, playing Charlie Day and that’s not what this film needed. He just felt out of place throughout much of the film. This brings me to my other major problem with the film: the Gwen storyline. From the get-go it feels like the looming conflict with Gwen is going to be a major part of the story, but it ends up being a red herring and you’re left wondering why Winstead is even in this film at all. She’s literally in two scenes. I’m not saying I needed a focus on a love triangle or anything like that, but it is clear that John is still hung up on Gwen and then, suddenly, he’s not anymore. It felt like a ton of build up for no payoff. Screenwriter Jim Strouse could have just focused on the fact that John is about to become a father and isn’t sure if he wants to spend his life with Rebecca. That’s enough of a dilemma without adding another woman that ends up just being a phantom.
I enjoyed Copley’s storyline, even if it did get a little weird at times. His wife, Stacey (Ashley Dyke), is a little too lenient with him considering some of the stunts he pulls. I also appreciated the fact that Jenkins’ Don wasn’t a typical all-knowing and wise movie father. He’s actually kind of a dope, which was oddly refreshing. However, his financial problems don’t totally come to fruition, so that felt like a dangling plot point by the end of the film. If they’d cut the Gwen storyline, there might have had been time to wrap that up more satisfactorily.
The performances here, aside from Day (sorry, Charlie), are good for the most part. Krasinski is definitely capable of leading man status and he excels in stories like this with both comedic and dramatic elements. Kendrick is fine as Rebecca, but her character was a little bit too quirky for my tastes—at one point she takes a cab from New York to Ohio. Sally calls Rebecca pushy in one scene—it’s meant as a compliment—but I never saw that play out in the script, so it became a good, but throwaway line. Copley is also a little quirky, but that’s kind of his shtick now, so I let that slide a little more. Jenkins is good as usual, but as I said, there was a scene or two where I wasn’t sure of the tone in his performance. The real star here, though, is Martindale as Sally. She does an excellent job of portraying the comforting mother, but does an equally excellent job playing a woman facing her own mortality.
Overall, The Hollars is by no means a terrible movie—I actually liked it very much—but there were several elements that prevented me from loving it. We’ve seen better movies in this same vein before, but Krasinski shows that he’s adept as both performer and director. Now he just needs a stronger script to help him hit one out of the park.