The Hollars, directed by and starring Midwestern everyman John Krasinski, wants to be a Jim Halpert of an Indie dramedy: raffish and lovable,softer and more sentimental than it initially lets on, and totes adorbs with Pam.
But The Hollars' sentimentality approaches a mawkish extreme, Charlie Day notwithstanding, and its assorted romances are spiceless, overshadowed in any case by one or two touching scenes of family intimacy. The plot revolves around a dysfunctional family — the Hollars! — compelled to reunite when the matriarch, Sally (Justified's Margo Martindale), discovers she has a brain tumor.
John (Krasinski) is the gloomy, exasperated son of Sally and Don (Richard Jenkins) and younger brother of Ron (the Neil Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley). He is summoned from New York City, where he has forsaken a career as a visual artist to work in an office. His professional torpor, coupled with the reality of his rich girlfriend Rebecca's (Anna Kendrick) pregnancy, has got John down in the dumps. The diagnosis of his mom, with whom he enjoys a special closeness, and the sudden proximity of a high-school girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), now married to his mom's nurse (Charlie Day) muddies his soul's waters further still.
Sensing her beau's existential tumult, Rebecca joins John from New York City — she takes a taxi! — and together they confront the uncertainty of his mom's operation head on. Meanwhile, Ron tries to patch things up with his ex-wife and Don tries to find work to pay for unwieldy medical bills as his plumbing business crumbles.
It's as if the movie thinks that the more narrative threads there are, the warmer the narrative sweater will be. There's simply too much going on here, but a handful of guffaw-worthy awkward moments have found their way into the script, as when John and Ron are spotted spying on Ron's ex-wife with her new man (Josh Groban) and attempt to recline in their car seats. John's is broken. Hilarity ensues.
Other scenes, however, feel unpolished, and performative in the way of certain high school plays. Don Hollar blubbers extravagantly at every thought of his wife's diagnosis; in a medical-update meeting, Ron tries to ingratiate himself with their Asian doctor (Veep's Randall Park) with a slew of hackneyed stereotypes.
Krasinski, in the prodigal son role, is so earnest that he's often tough to watch; for example, when we repairs to a favorite childhood spot, an old tire swing on a river, and gleefully goes for a ride. It's borderline Christian cinema.
The heart of the movie is Martindale's, and though she's supine in a medical bed throughout, she's still the best actor and most interesting character on screen. She reveals family secrets, dispenses motherly wisdom, and, at last, recognizes the grim reality of her medical condition. Her terrified final moments before surgery, and her family's gallant attempts to soothe her, are the movie's most impactful moments.
But Lordy, even that. The Hollars feels like the optimized emanation from and embodiment of the Krasinski persona. That is, it feels like the product of a coddled, creative dude — "tall, handsome American film and television star" — who has always been perceived, and has enjoyed the fruits of being perceived, as extraordinarily sensitive.
The Hollars is rated PG-13 for language and thematic elements and opens Friday at select theaters.