The stars aligned in more ways than one for The Hollars, John Krasinski’s (The Office) first directorial endeavor since his lesser known 2009 debut (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men). The likes of Anna Kendrick, Sharlto Copley (District 9), Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane), Margo Martindale (Million Dollar Baby), Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers), Josh Groban (Crazy Stupid Love) and many more lined up to take part in the actor-turned-director’s charming tale about the circle of life, the wounds of regret, and the healing power of family ties. Maintaining an unassailable balance of humor and heart throughout, Krasinski reminds audiences that life’s lows are just as significant as its highs and our ability to recognize that will carry us through our biggest obstacles.
With The Hollars, Krasinski is able to capture an emotional depth and independent spirit similar to what Zach Braff achieved in 2004’s Garden State. Although it is unlikely that Krasinski’s film will reach the profitable heights that Garden State did, its effect, as well as plot, is similar in that The Hollars proves Krasinski to be an asset to the future of rich independent storytelling (and will also give audiences a new indie rock playlist to wear out).
Written by James C. Strouse, – who also penned last year’s underrated indie People, Places, Things – the story follows John Hollar, an aspiring writer living in New York and going through the motions with his pregnant girlfriend (Kendrick). He is unexpectedly forced to return home to his small hometown after his mother (Martindale) suffers a heart attack. While there, John comes face to face with his past – an old girlfriend (Winstead), a sinking family business, festering familial strife – which threatens to seep into his present and future life that he has built in New York. In helping to heal his family’s wounds, though, John learns valuable lessons about his own and how to truly appreciate life in all its ups and downs.
Every character in The Hollars is dealing with his or her own version of regret. John’s brother Ron (Copley) longs for the family he gave up after divorcing his wife; John’s father (Jenkins) wonders if he could have prevented his wife’s illness or prevented his plumbing business from bankruptcy; John’s mother dwells on whether or not she made the right decision in marrying his father; John deals with the “what-ifs” when he sees his ex-girlfriend again or worries about being a father himself. The story addresses these issues in a beautiful way by linking them to the cycles of life – death, birth, a major life decision – and finding their solaces in family. John, the prodigal son in a sense, returns and gradually heals the open gashes in the family’s past, present, and future.
Krasinski takes the cyclical conceit even further in the film’s effortless transitions between emotion and humor. With every heart wrenching moment immediately and naturally comes one of joy, hilarity, or wit. Krasinski, who, after his long run as Jim on NBC’s The Office, has become an actor that audiences love to love. His character John is no different and Krasinski delivers a layered and emotionally wrought performance to a character with the weight of his family, old and new, on his shoulders. Off-setting Krasinski in the film’s yin-yang of emotions is Copley (with an American accent) who proves to be a surprising but undeniably welcome addition to the cast. From the opening scene to its closing, Copley’s Ron is an endless parade of goofball antics that add comedic relief to some of the hard hitting plot, but also tend to get Ron into his own sticky situations with his ex-wife or his job at the family business. Copley geniously composes Ron’s wildness and outside of the expected laughs, layers in disarming moments of genuine emotion.
Krasinski and Copley are not alone, though, with the remaining star-studded cast equally pulling their own weight while never overshadowing one another. There is a carefully cultivated balance happening on every level of filmmaking in The Hollars, with a cast of talented heavy hitters – I would be remiss to not praise Kendrick and Day for their continuously solid work – balancing each other out as well in a perfect marriage of cast, character, and story. Krasinski’s filmmaking allows these elements to take center stage as he combines natural lighting and intimate camera perspectives to bring the audience right into the family milieu. At the magnetic center is Krasinski, who brings heaven and earth together to – nearly without notice – create his own marvelous take on the classic (Biblical) prodigal son returns tale.
Verdict 5 out of 5
What Krasinski has created with The Hollars is outstanding, to what seems like an effortless degree. The film tells a beautiful story of family, relationships, and the useless human tendency to let regret tear all of that down. Krasinski’s film, though brilliant, will likely escape notice this year and in the future, likely because of its quiet and supremely light-hearted story, but will be beloved by those prone toward great indie family dramedies.