Movie Review: “The Hollars”

John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
John Krasinski

Actor John Krasinski returns behind the camera with “The Hollars,” the follow-up to his 2009 directorial debut “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s novel of the same name. Although that film was greeted with mostly negative reviews, Krasinski’s sophomore effort is a compelling and kind-hearted, albeit familiar, tale about returning home.

After learning his mother is sick, John Hollar (Krasinski) has to fly back home, away from his unsatisfying job and his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). Upon his arrival, he’s greeted by his brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), who was recently fired by their dad, Don (Richard Jenkins), from the family store. After his divorce, Ron is still living at home, doing considerably worse than his younger brother, who once dreamt of what he thinks is a better life as a graphic novelist. Once he arrives home, he’s forced to confront past mistakes, rebuild relationships, and be there for his family, most notably his mother Sally (Margo Martindale), who’s been diagnosed with a massive brain tumor.

That plot summary tells you exactly what you’re in for. In one subplot, John even has dinner at his ex-girlfriend’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) house with her husband Jason (Charlie Day), who comedically hovers around to make sure nothing happens between them. It’s an overly broad scene that speaks to “The Hollars” biggest problem: it tries a little too hard with the laughs. Screenwriter James C. Strouse often goes big with the gags, and sometimes at the expense of the drama. It feels like almost every dramatic scene has to end with a laugh or some kind of gag to provide levity. The jokes are sometimes more calculated than a natural mix of the good (the laughs) and the bad (the drama) in these situations.

The familiarity of “The Hollars,” however, is hardly a problem. Strouse’s story hits the beats we expect – and often loudly – but it does so with honesty, some genuine laughs and a few moments that do pull at the heart strings. Some of these characters border on caricature, at least on paper. On the screen, Krasinksi and all involved make them and their conflicts real. Their interactions, fights and discussions all add to a believable family that’s both charming and empathetic.

Krasinski is unsurprisingly an actor’s director. His eye seems more interested in the performances, first and foremost. With a cast this good, that’s understandable. There’s a loose and natural atmosphere to his direction that the story and the actors benefit from. There’s nothing showy about the camerawork or the performances. “The Hollars” gives every actor their moment to shine, but not in some grandiose way. The big moments are all real, everyday moments, and Krasinski and his actors play them as such. The jokes may not always be believable in the film, but the family and the performances are, and that’s enough to make Krasinski’s film a low-key charmer.