THE HOLLARS – Review
Well, we were just looking at a family “drama-dy” from Japan, OUR LITTLE SISTER, so let’s turn our multiplex jet airliner right around and head back to the states. Our destination is the good ole’ heartland of the US of A, and lots of laughs and tears are in store. Now this family unit is a bit older than the SISTER quartet, with two sons well past their twenties along with their spouses, and ‘exes’. Oh, and this time out the parents play a big part in the story. Speaking of airliners, the big box office winner last week was the true tale of flying heroics SULLY, directed by actor Clint Eastwood. Well, this film is also directed by an actor, John Krasinski (he’s in front of the camera, too). This is his first time helming a film since 2009’s BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, his directing debut. John’s got a way to go before surpassing Clint’s impressive film-making resume’, but he shows even more promise with this second effort, THE HOLLARS.
Let’s touch this plane down in central Ohio, right at the Hollar family home. Eldest son Ron (Sharlto Copley), recently divorced, out of work, and now living in the den, is in a panic early this morning. The upstairs and downstairs bathrooms are occupied by Mama H, Sally (Margo Martindale) and Papa H, Don (Richard Jenkins), and nature is calling. When Don catches Ron “improvising” in the kitchen, they hear a racket above. The men find Sally sprawled on the bathroom floor, nearly unconscious. Now we dash from there to NYC and the office cubicle of prodigal Hollar son John (Krasinski), as he scribbles a cartoon while worrying about his future fatherhood. Suddenly his very pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) is there to inform him that his mother has had a seizure, and his flight home is booked. When John arrives at the hospital, he learns that Mom has a brain tumor that will require major surgery in just a few days. But there’s more family drama. Brother Ron is stalking his ex-wife, concerned about his two pre-teen daughters now that ex, Stacey (Ashley Dyke) is seeing the church’s youth pastor, Rev. Dan (Josh Groban). Oh, and the job Ron lost was at his pop’s heating and plumbing business, which is going under. Plus, the nurse taking care of ma is John’s old high school classmate Jason (Charlie Day), who is married, and has a baby with, John’s old sweetheart Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As John nervously awaits Rebecca’s due date, he must somehow deal with this very stressful homecoming.
Despite pulling double duty, Krasinski delivers a subtle, nuanced performance as the harried, often exasperated returning son. He seems to know exactly when to recede, to let his co-stars shine (no doubt a good habit he acquired during his long stint on NBC-TV’s “The Office”), often becoming a classic “straight man” to the off-kilter characters. But he’s not always the calm in the storm as Krasinski shows the worry and anxiety on his face and in his darting eyes. One of the more pleasant surprises is the wonderful comic turn by Copley (hey he was pretty funny in the opening, pre-prawn scenes in DISTRICT 9) as the desperate doofus, Ron . Though he’s such a foul-up, it’s hard not to sympathize with such a doting daddy. And this South African native really nails the American accent. Day effortlessly bounces between aggressive blowhard and twitchy paranoid hubby as Jason, a guy still nursing old school grudges who wants to rub John’s nose in the fact that he’s got his former flame, but is terrified she could be taken from him. Kendrick and Groban turn in great supporting work, along with comedy vets Randall Park (THE INTERVIEW) as Sally’s doc and Mary Kay Place (THE BIG CHILL) as Don’s pull-no-punches CPA sister.
This cast is terrific, but the film truly belongs to the heads pf the Hollar clan, played by two “old pros” who deliver some of their best work in their long careers. Jenkins as the faltering father is a constant wonder as Don goes from blubbering despair to defiant anger upon hearing the wrong remark. Life seems to have this weary man in a choke-hold, destroying the business that has sapped his years, then threatening to take away his rock, the true love of his life, the woman he very affectionately calls “Chief”. Marindale is a lovable force of nature as the stubborn, although scared matriarch Sally. Still, as the countdown to the operation goes forward, she only thinks of the men in her life and how to inspire them to keep moving. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, the impending surgery prompts her to share a thought with John, one she’s probably never spoken aloud, that hits her son like a wrecking ball. And when they come to wheel her out of her room, to make that long trek down the hallway…it’s truly heart-wrenching, a scene that many Academy members will hopefully recall at year’s end.
The screenplay from James Strouse never hits a false note, sprightly balancing the laughter and tears. The small town “everybody knows everybody” feel is captured by Krasinski who paces the film expertly, making a brisk 90 minutes zip by. The locations are lovely with Mississippi standing in for Ohio. Krasinski is compiling a most impressive list of movies, but this will be tough to top (it’ll be interesting to see what his next choice will be). Families everywhere will find they’ve got a lot in common with this delightful lovable foursome, THE HOLLARS.
4.5 Out of 5
THE HOLLARS opens everywhere and screens exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas