A Modern Family Comedy
‘The Hollars’ explores life, death, forgiveness and dysfunction with humor and insight
The morning started with a dispute between mom and her grown son at the bathroom door. “If you’re going to stay here, you’ll have to use the bathroom downstairs,” Sally says firmly. Ron runs downstairs and finds the room occupied by dad. His bladder bursting by then, Ron races to the kitchen and empties himself in a plastic container. Dad emerges, watching with dismay. “Your mother puts orange juice in that thing,” he says testily. Hearing a crash, they go upstairs and find mom on the floor.
The Hollars goes on like that: a comedy of contemporary family life spiked with sadness. The protagonist, John Hollar (John Krasinski), is the son who moved away and works a minor job in a New York publishing house. John’s pregnant girlfriend Becca (Anna Kendrick), a neurotic and compulsively focused scion of wealth, notifies him that Sally, his mom, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Returning to his hometown in the flat heartlands of memory, John finds nothing in good order.
Brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) is a 30-something who retreated to their parents’ basement after his divorce. He stalks his ex-wife, parking outside her house and peering at the windows through binoculars. Dragging along the bemused John, Ron spies his ex with her new boyfriend, Pastor Dan (Josh Groban) from their parents’ church, and when Dan emerges to confront him, Ron tries but fails to speed away. His car, like his life, is stalled. The male nurse attending Sally (Margo Martindale) is a resentful high school acquaintance who inherited John’s old girlfriend in a marriage that appears to be floundering. John’s dad (Richard Jenkins) is an ineffectual if well-meaning man who devoted his life to Hollar Heating and Plumbing, a business deep in unpaid bills. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he says after the banker, his friend, turns him down when he comes for another loan.
Although the gap between the American dream of guaranteed happiness and the reality of failure is a motif throughout the film, The Hollars never strays into depression or falls into despair. The potential for darkness is kept at bay by the screenplay’s low-key sense of humor and gently ironic sensibility. Most everyone has his or her moments of absurdity and beauty. The Hollars holds out the promise that the only thing as certain as death is life itself.
Directed by John Krasinski