Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: "The Hollars"

“You won’t know till you get there that you’re OK.”
--Sally Hollar

On points for originality, “The Hollars” scores a great big goose egg. It’s an overly familiar recitation of the Going Home dramedy, in which a wayward adult returns to their childhood home because of some kind of family crisis and has to face a lot of old fears and doubts, heaped on top of some new ones.

But this cast is just amazing: Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. And, of course, John Krasinski (“The Office”), who stars, produces as well as directing his second feature film.

It’s a warm-hearted story that delivers exactly what you expect, yet never has a false moment or trips over any pretensions.

This movie is a big ol’ slice of pecan pie. The taste is like a memory etched into your mind, yet you can’t help finding yourself asking for more. This is the rare movie I actually wished was a bit longer.

John Hollar (Krasinski) lives in New York City and labors in misery as a graphic artist for an advertising firm. He’s got an amazing girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), who’s very pregnant with their child. But he hasn’t put a ring on it, and obviously has cold feet about the sudden push into real adulthood.

Back home things aren’t much happier. (The exact location of the Hollar homestead isn’t specified, but I’d guess somewhere small-town Midwest.)

The father, Don (Richard Jenkins), projects outward stoicism concealing a jumpy bundle of nerves. The family business is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Oldest son Ron (Sharlto Copley) is the resident screw-up; he’s back living in his parents’ basement after being fired by his boss -- that would be his dad -- and is long divorced. He’s taken to spying on the house where his ex-wife and daughters live.

Margo Martindale is Sally, the matriarch and spiritual center of the clan. Don even calls her “Chief,” tacitly acknowledging her prominence. As the story opens she collapses in the bathroom, which at first Don dismisses as a prank. He’s anything but mean-spirited; he’s just rested on that Rock of Gibraltar so long he just assumes Sally is immortal. But tests reveal a large brain tumor.

John returns home, and it’s apparent he was disconnected from his family long before he left. But his momma treats him with patience, knowing the sheep has to wander back to the herd on its own rather than being led. She offers opinions, gives comfort and accept some, too. Martindale is just a wondrous performer, and projects the wave of fear Sally is experiencing underneath a tough game face.

“I like Rebecca,” she tells John. “She’s pushy. Men need to be pushed.”

Rebecca herself soon arrives too, due in part to some tension with an old girlfriend of John’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is now married to Sally’s nurse, Jason (the always acerbic Charlie Day). We think it’s going to turn into a love triangle, but the third leg is not the one we expect.

The screenplay by Jim Strouse stays firmly in the groove of laughing-while-crying melodrama, decidedly sentimental without ever wallowing into sappy. There are a lot of great one-liners – such as Sally, fretting over having to have her head shaved for surgery, predicting she’ll “look like Rod Steiger.”

This is the sort of movie that rises and falls on the strength of its cast, and it’s got a doozy. There’s so much heart in the Hollars; watching a film about them is like a warm, wet hug.

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