The Hollars (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

It’s too bad the film doesn’t work better.

Still from "The Hollars", 2014, Director: John Krasinski

If you feel the need to see yet another middling dramedy about a dysfunctional white family brought together by a medical crisis, then John Krasinski’s The Hollars may be just the picture for you. Similarly, if you haven’t yet tired of the antics of man-children who refuse to grow up and take responsibility for themselves, you may well enjoy this film. If you think that watching adults behave inappropriately, in ways so far removed from normal behavior that you could go a lifetime without ever seeing such antics in real life (example: a parent and adult child getting into a slappy fight in the hospital room of the other parent), you may even find it hilarious. If you don’t share any of those feelings, however, then you should probably forgo the experience of this movie and do something exciting instead, like painting the back porch or sorting the contents of your underwear drawer.

The Hollars pretends to be about big issues—life, death, family—but takes place in a universe so far removed from anyone’s reality that it turns out to be more about bad writing and jokes that fall flat. The precipitating event in The Hollars is family matriarch Sally (Margo Martindale, whose performance is this film’s only saving grace) being diagnosed with a brain tumor. This forces one of her adult sons, John (John Kasinski),who holds some undefined white-collar job in a publishing firm in New York, to return home on short notice. John lives a life of vague dissatisfaction: he wants to be a graphic novelist but won’t actually submit his work to anyone, and has a pregnant girlfriend (Becca, played by Anna Kendrick) he doesn’t want to marry, but in both cases refuses to either piss or get off the pot. John has fallent out of touch with his family, and finds all sorts of surprises awaiting him when he returns to the town where his parents and brother Ron live.

Don (Richard Jenkins), the father of the Hollar clan, runs a plumbing business that’s on the brink of bankruptcy. Until recently, the other adult son, Ron (Sharlto Copley; and yes, the male members of this family are named Don, Ron, and John) worked for his father. Ron has also has been living in his parents’ home since divorcing his wife Stacy (Ashley Dyke, saddled with a completely thankless, bitchy role—the screenplay by Jim Strouse seems incapable of sympathy for female characters under the age of 50). Ron is seething with resentment over the way his life has turned out, and expresses it in the most inappropriate ways possible, including spying on the house where Stacy lives with their two daughters and even breaking through the window of the daughters’ room. I guess he’s never heard of negotiating child custody and visitation rights, a ritual completely familiar to any real-life divorced couple with children.

Even the medical professionals in this film behave unbelievably. Sally’s physician, Dr. Fong (Randall Park), greets the family with the news that he just came from the golf course, then proceeds to deliver a boatload of bad news without giving them any chance to react or adjust to what he’s saying. Even worse is Sally’s nurse Jason (Charlie Day), who is more interested in hashing out an ancient rivalry with John (they liked the same girl in high school) than in carrying out his professional duties. Jason also acts as the food police when John brings his mother her favorite snacks, and while there are sometimes reasons to restrict a patient’s diet, but there are also appropriate ways to do so, and snatching food away from a seriously ill patient while delivering a holier-than-thou lecture is not one of them.

Most of The Hollars supposedly takes place in a small town in Ohio (I assume it’s a small town because Don knows his banker personally, and thinks that the fact that he’s a member of the Chamber of Commerce should get him special consideration when he needs a loan to bail out his failing business), but the film was shot in Mississippi and has absolutely no sense of place. At one point one of the characters supposedly takes an eight-hour cab ride from New York to wherever the Hollar family home is supposed to be, which is just the kind of unbelievable detail that makes you think that the screenplay was written in a day and never revised. It’s too bad the film doesn’t work better, given the high quality of the cast, but even the best actors can’t always rise above the material they’re given to work with. | Sarah Boslaugh

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