The media industry has always struggled with the “nobody knows” dilemma — the uncertainty of the success of a media product despite whether it utilizes known talent and formats that have been successful in the past. With regards to film, John Krasinski’s (“The Office”) directorial effort “The Hollars” falls perfectly into this trap as a movie with all the right ingredients that form a bland and tasteless stew overall.
Also starring Krasinski — American’s button-nose, white bread dreamboat — “The Hollars” features a family that comes together to provide support for Sally Hollar (Margo Martindale, “August: Osage County”), the matriarch, who is suffering from a softball-sized brain tumor. During their few days together, each member of the family confronts their own issues and somehow rectifies them by the end of the hour-and-a-half film.
On the surface, this film seems to have potential. It contains all the formulaic components of a fun, feel-good movie. Its main attractor is its star-studded cast, which includes Krasinski, Martindale, Anna Kendrick (“The Last Five Years”), Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Richard Jenkins (“Jack Reacher”) — all seasoned actors who have made incredible movies and TV shows. Even singer/songwriter/American icon Josh Groban slides his way onscreen. The film’s snappy folk playlist and simple cinematography work to create a charming hometown aesthetic. It should have been easy to produce a simple but entertaining family comedic drama, something simple but somewhat enjoyable.
Instead, “The Hollars” is indisputably painful. It tries so hard to be a quirky, feel-good comedy that it ends up forced and stiff. The actors don’t play off each other well at all; Krasinski fails to deliver his iconic boyish charm, and he has absolutely zero chemistry with Kendrick, who does her best to smooth over his flat jokes. The entire family ensemble is unconvincing. The film centers around their rocky family dynamics, but it is hard to understand where the root of their drama is as the film provides no context. Their forced animosity and angst is matched by dialogue with a tone reminiscent of the awkward small chat one makes with the parents of their roommates that they really don’t like. The final resolution of the family issues seems forced as well, with no basis in anything genuine.
The movie is filled with uncomfortable and confusing moments. John’s (Krasinski) ex-girlfriend (Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, “10 Cloverfield Lane”), also the wife of Jason (Day), aggressively kisses him in her home, and it’s never brought up again. Further, John and Rebecca (Kendrick) get engaged and deal with planning his mother’s funeral, then Rebecca immediately goes into labor at the actual funeral. Perhaps most disturbing is Martindale’s traumatic screams as she begs not to be taken into surgery, which transitions sharply to a family serenade of “Closer to Fine” by The Indigo Girls. Overall there’s a huge pacing issue, as the film is slow until the very end, when too much happens too quickly. The consequence of this is a lessening of the actual gravity of the high and low points, with everything seeming insincere.
The film’s problem is that it tries to inject humor into tragedy in clever and quirky ways. In actuality, the movie is too lighthearted in its actual serious moments. Overall, it has a jarring effect that leaves the viewer unsatisfied and annoyed. The entire film is a relentless question of “is this touching, or dumb?” — overwhelmingly, the answer is the latter.