The Hollars – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

A strong-willed and deeply loving mother rules the Hollar clan in this touching take on family dysfunction.

John Krasinski and Margo Martindale star in The Hollars. Copyright 2016 Jonny Cournoyer/Sony Pictures Classics.

John Krasinski and Margo Martindale star in The Hollars. Copyright 2016 Jonny Cournoyer/Sony Pictures Classics.

Support During a Family Crisis

Storytellers are often advised to start in the middle of the action, and The Hollars wastes no time enmeshed in background material. Within a few minutes, the audience knows that matriarch Sally Hollar (Margo Martindale) has a brain tumor; her husband Donald (Richard Jenkins) is totally dependent on her; their older son Ron (Sharlto Copely) has a history of making bad decisions; and younger son John (John Krasinski is unsteadily teetering on the brink of fatherhood and quitting his unsatisfying job in New York.

Backstory isn’t neglected, however. Within this difficult week in the life of the Hollars, we learn bits and pieces of family history as the drama unfolds. The film offers just enough information about the past to suggest answers rather than actually providing them.

When John’s pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), informs him that his mother’s had a seizure and is in the hospital for the newly discovered brain tumor, he flies home immediately to support the family during the crisis. He soon learns another crisis is at hand; his father’s company hasn’t paid employees in two weeks and is on the verge of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Ron has been stalking his ex-wife and their children, parking in front of the house to spy on them through binoculars.

Frustrations Come to the Surface

These existing problems, compounded with Sally’s illness, bring out the pent-up frustrations in Donald and Ron, who conveniently take it out on each other. John jumps in as peacemaker – likely an overly familiar role that encouraged his exit from home in the first place – and attempts to mend fences between his father and brother. In addition to his role within the family, John has his own problems. With his wealthy girlfriend’s impending delivery, he feels pressured to get married, but thinks he’s too much of a failure to support a family on his own or provide proper guidance to his child. As Sally’s surgery date draws near, all these issues (and more) come bubbling up to the surface in a hot comic mess, which in this case is a good thing.

Despite its delightful comedy elements brought to life by the eclectic ensemble cast, the plot includes just a few too many coincidences. For example, Sally’s nurse is married to John’s high school sweetheart; John visits a liquor store where his father is secretly moonlighting; Rebecca goes into labor at the worst moment possible, etc. Even so, these contrived moments are forgivable sins in an otherwise honest and heartfelt film.

Martindale gives an extraordinary performance that blends Sally’s overt strength and hidden fragility just beneath her motherly exterior. She’s the foundation on which the family relies for safety and security. Likewise, this versatile cast seems inspired by Martindale’s passion for this courageous role and by Krasinski’s fine direction in his second turn at the helm of a feature film (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men). A generous supply of folksy music by Josh Ritter adds another layer of interest in this small film that deserves a large audience.

The Hollars

  • A struggling New York artist returns to his dysfunctional family in a small middle-American town when his mother is diagnosed with a brain tumor.
  • Stars: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Groban, Randall Park
  • Director: John Krasinski
  • Writer: Jim Strouse
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief language and some thematic material)

 

 

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