John Krasinski’s strengths as an actor — a sly sense of humor, emotional openness, a charitable view toward his own and other actors’ characters — are also on display in his feature film directing debut.
But despite a cast to die for and some heartfelt sentiment, “The Hollars” is a near miss, a movie in which everything seems just a degree or two out of whack.
Jim Strauss’s screenplay is yet another dysfunctional family dramedy.
Illness in the family brings NYC office drone John Hollar (Krasinski) back to his middle American hometown. He leaves behind his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) and a dead-end job — what he really wants to do is write and illustrate graphic novels.
Ma Hollar (Margo Martindale) has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Even with that against her, she shows more common sense than the menfolk of her clan, who are more or less eccentric idiots.
Dad Hollar (Richard Jenkins) lives in an emotional bubble of denial. Whenever he steps out of that bubble he collapses in tears. And he's run the family’s plumbing business into the ground, forcing him to fire his oldest son Ron (Shallot Copley), who now lives in the basement.
Ron is a near-moron who is stalking the ex-wife with whom he has two little girls. And he harbors some absurd notions about minorities (he assumes that his mother’s surgeon, an Asian-American, must be a master of at least one martial art).
Compared to Dad and Ron, John seems pretty level-headed. But he, too, is a bit of a mess, terrified of committing to Rebecca.
Then there’s his mother’s nurse (Charlie Day), who is more than a little frantic at having John back in town, given that he is now married to John’s old high school sweetheart and is consumed by jealousy and fear.
This cast is so deep that performers like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mary Kay Place and Josh Groan basically show up just for extended cameos.
But even this collection of terrific pros have trouble navigating the wobbly emotional tightrope that is the script. All too often bizarre moments that are meant to be entertaining come off as irritating instead. The movie pushes too hard, and often at the wrong moment.
Whether this should be laid at the feet of the screenplay or of Krasinski’s direction is a question, I’m not prepared to answer.
Happily, in the final going “The Hollars” does build a bit of emotional oomph. But you may feel jerked around in getting there.