Tuesday night’s OCFS screening of The Hollars (John Krasinski’s directorial debut) was held at the Regency South Coast Plaza Theater. Those in attendance were notably ecstatic for and, dare I say, moved by the film. [Can I say that word on this blog?] Understandably so, especially when the story’s about life’s regrets and love’s content within—you guessed it—a dysfunctional family.
When bare-spoken mother and backbone-of-the-family Sally Hollar (Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with having a brain tumor, her son, struggling graphic novelist John (John Krasinski) is called from New York to accompany his family. His emotional wreck of a father, Don (Richard Jenkins), is on the cusp of bankruptcy due to his failing Plumbing business and his resentful, jobless, stay-at-home brother, Ron (Sharlto Copely) is embittered by jealousy on account of separating from his girlfriend. John, too, has his share of anxieties. In New York, he leaves his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), who, besides John himself, is not only afraid of starting a family, but anxious that his ex-girlfriend is still back home.
Stories like these are not only abundant but popular. They engage the audience, they urge the spectator to make 1:1 comparisons between their life and the one on-screen. It’s interesting to note that The Hollars does indeed attempt to strike a balance between the somber and [more] light-hearted moments in a challenging time for an endearingly broken family [don’t we all have one, asks this writer]. But an attempt is all the film remains. Its intentions to detail the ups and downs of the Hollars and, in the end, redeem them become more of an exposition of flawed characters who’ve simply pasted themselves with improvement. There’s no real change, as the characters don’t show sufficient depth to initially change from. The film opens with Sally in close proximity to her bathroom mirror, carefully applying make-up to her quiet face. Is she contemplating her age, her life as she glances back at her reflection? Does she see her fate before fate itself? Undoubtedly, Sally holds the structure of her family together and indeed her diagnosis challenges them to face fear and pick up the pieces.
The family’s dysfunction, however, is more contrived than organic, staging conflict and misbehavior rather than letting it flow naturally or truly come into fruition. John’s arrival from New York is seemingly intended to introduce him as a catalyst for anxiety, truth, and familial closure. The fact of the matter is it’s unclear who John is or what his motivation is. He’s struggling to publish his graphic novel, is distant from his family, according to his brother’s incessant complaining, perhaps still in love with his ex-girlfriend Gwen, and fears failure in becoming a father. In short, he’s insecure, but his insecurities are only taken so far without being properly motivated. There’s no reason as to why he’s distanced himself from his family, especially since when he returns home Ron is probably the only one that resents him albeit insignificantly. Don fires Ron on account of losing his business and is forced to find another job at a local grocery store. Ron struggles to come to terms with the fact that his 2 daughters have been taken under the wing of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, Reverend Dan (Josh Groban). To add to the theme of fear and timing running through this film, it’s revealed that Ron wasn’t ready to care for a family, which is why he chose to leave. John’s anticipated encounter with Gwen was less ethereal and more to-the-point. If I’m not being straight-forward enough, during a dinner invitation, she lunges at him while her husband and Sally’s nurse, Jason (Charlie Day) leaves the room. The spell we were entranced with in recollecting John and Gwen’s romance became nothing more than an unsubtle lustful encounter. John leaves, tells Rebecca about it, and Gwen is never seen or brought up again. Their relationship had been given great weight at the beginning of the film, only to be granted a cameo and ordered to recede behind the curtain. The characters’ dysfunction is forced upon them, staged in various scenarios so as to exaggerate their “flaws”. At the same time, we’re also prompted by the action on-screen what to say or how to react.
The film relies on telling not showing, which may be attributed to Krasinski’s first-time directing effort or the screenplay’s loose ends. Many stand-alone amusing lines are unnecessarily punctuated by an audible “What?” or “Wait…what?” and the film is sprinkled with somewhat superfluous yet tender montages set to Indie Folk Rock [ugh. I hate putting labels on music. I’m sorry, music.] I will say, though, Margo Martindale’s performance captivates the senses. I knew I remembered her from Alexander Payne’s short film in the compilation Paris, J’Taime. The early hospital scene where John first arrives is also very well comedically composed and timed. It would be a shame not to highlight it. AND, certainly, Randall Park’s small part as Dr. Fong is cleverly dead-panned and refreshingly subtle. Scene-stealing, almost. Nevertheless, The Hollars’ heart was in the right place, intentions were good and boy, did some parts truly tug at the ol’ soul strings, but the result is an unfinished one.