In a theatrical landscape littered with roles shamelessly written for statue-seekers, multiple comic book universes, and controversial subject matter intended to rile audiences into a social media frenzy, it is refreshing to finally see a film that reminds you why we go to the movies in the first place. At the core, we watch movies to feel. As film-goers, we willingly enter a relationship with the auteur that puts our emotions out there for him or her to mold how they see fit. I’ve been going to the movies for the better part of 25 years and last night was the first time I sat in my seat through the entire ending credits of a film with tears streaming down my face. “The Hollars,” John Krasinski’s big screen directorial debut, delivers a poignant balance between absurdity and sentiment that hasn’t been showcased since “The Descendants.”
The film’s plot centers on young professional John Hollar (played by Krasinski), who is facing the primordial existential crisis that has been plaguing Generation Y’ers over the last decade. He should be ecstatic that he’s got a baby on the way via his wealthy girlfriend, played by the consistently lovable Anna Kendrick, but being stuck at a dead-end job not fully satisfying his creative potential has left him devoid of any happiness. His problems are suddenly interrupted when he gets the news that his mom is sick and he must return to his small hometown in Ohio. Waiting for him back home are his family members, consisting of his blue collar dad Donald, played by the fantastic Richard Jenkins, his man-child older brother Ron, played by Sharlto Copley, and his ill mother Sally, played by Margo Martindale in her best performance to date. Upon his arrival, the depressing state of his family’s affairs becomes immediately apparent to John, thrusting him into a situation where he must be the rock they need during this extremely difficult time and also deal with the whirlwind of emotions attributed to his life back in the big city.
Groundbreaking act one setup, right? Not quite. While not the most unique of plots per se, “The Hollars” finds its soul within the onscreen chemistry between the family members. Every scene is laced with emotional sentiment that is contrasted with moments of comedic relief delivered by wonderfully nuanced performances. While this is no surprise from Krasinski and Jenkins’ body of work, Martindale and Copley dazzle with their range as they tug at your heart strings one moment and then have you giggle like a newborn the next. Copley’s foray into comedy, albeit through a still work-in-progress American accent, makes this a must-see for “District 9” fans. Josh Groban, Charlie Day and Ashley Dyke act as memorable supporting players in this well-rounded cast. Even though Kendrick does typical Kendrick things, her character serves as one of the rational and level-headed voices amidst the shenanigans.
Behind the lens, the direction feels like it is influenced heavily by Krasinski the actor. Dialogue and tone take precedence over the camera and he lets the performances shine brightest. You can feel a connection between the director and the subject matter, further enhancing the authenticity that vibrates throughout the film. Not only are the interactions believable, but you find yourself emotionally vested in this particular family’s future. When is the last time you had a palpable investment in whether or not a character lived or died without needing multiple seasons on television to get there? “The Hollars” gets you there in a little under an hour and a half, with a smile to boot, and without resorting to an overtly sappy script. Written by James C. Strouse – whose previous films navigate the same saccharine waters as this film – the story serves mostly as a skeletal structure of common small town circumstances containing absurd elements. The aforementioned circumstances house the characters within a framework that encourages the freedom for them to do their thing uninhibited.
Maybe it was the right movie at the right time for someone like me because I was able to ignore rudimentary editing, predictably unpredictable story twists, and an indie folk soundtrack that felt like each song was a rejected cut from the new Bon Iver album. I laughed, out loud mostly, from the opening to ending credits. I had a solid, authentic cry from the last act through the lights going on. And in the end I left the theater differently than most of my theatrical sessions – comprehensively satisfied.
“The Hollars” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is currently in select theaters.