The Hollars is a film that has been unfortunately glossed over by many critics and (judging by the box office numbers) audiences – including myself, until recently. I wasn’t planning on seeing this movie, and had little to no expectations going in. However, my wife adores both Anna Kendrick and John Krasinski, and since I adore my wife, I agreed to see it…and I’m glad I did.
John Krasinski not only stars but also directs, and proves himself to be just as capable a director as he is an actor. I enjoyed his work on The Office, and he has taken his comedic chops to the next level. Not only is the comedy good, but the emotion feels real between characters and in quiet moments, courtesy of a strong ensemble cast.
This is a touching and funny movie that gives a very real look at modern family dynamics. The Hollar family brought up a lot of issues that many families go through: guilt, resentment, regret. But the film touches on how, despite all this, families stick together and support one another. It’s also a reflection on how everyone looks to their closest relationships for assurance about life.
Stuff I Liked
John Krasiniski really sells this movie, both as a director and actor. His direction is very plain and natural, which totally works for the simple story he’s telling. The characters are his main focus and he spends very little time on fancy camera work. It’s the hallmark of a director who is in control of a story.
As an actor, Krasinski’s natural charisma is wonderful to watch. His comedic timing is perfect; it was easy for the audience to know how to feel in the film’s crazy situations when we can look at Krasinski’s face. His deadpan looks are hilarious, like a man hopelessly lost in a sea of chaos. He’s also emotes very well, like conveying John Hollar’s attempt to keep his cool, even though he looks like he wants to crawl in a hole and die.
Being a movie about family, what made The Hollars really pop was the chemistry between the actors. This is a true ensemble cast, with every person playing an important role to bring the story to life. There seemed to be history between these people; it was believable and palpable in their interactions.
Going further, it’s really refreshing when a movie has characters with actual personalities, flaws and idiosyncrasies that are consistent. Ron Hollar, expertly played by Sharlto Copley, is a frustrated divorcé resenting his brother John’s life situation, and lashes out in strange (and funny) ways because he’s unable to deal with the feelings he carries. I got all of that from Ron’s lines and actions throughout the film – delivered in a clear and concise way. It’s something that should be more frequent in film today, but isn’t.
Margo Martindale carried the emotional heart of this movie as the Hollar matriarch, Sally. I knew Martindale from my favorite film, The Rocketeer, where she played Millie, the owner of the Bulldog Café. She was just as wonderful and charming in this movie, playing the glue that held the family together.
Her most touching moment was when she broke down in fear about her brain surgery (which was hard to watch, given how tough a lady she usually was), and her sons and husband cheered her on with an Indigo Girls song.
The prevailing tone of this movie is familial awkwardness, and it makes for great comedy with which we can all relate. Krasinski definitely learned from his time on The Office how to milk an awkward moment for all its worth. My favorite was the scene where Ron creepily spies on his ex-wife while John is still in the car with him, leading to a teeth-gnashing encounter with the ex’s new man – a youth pastor.
Speaking of Reverend Dan, I really appreciated the filmmakers respect toward the character. So many times in film, devout Christians are depicted as one-dimensional elitists, ignoramuses, zealots, or all of the above. Singer Josh Groban played a man simply living out his faith, and it was great. He treats Ron with kindness and patience despite the abuse, even though in his face one can see the growing frustration. They have a very touching moment toward the end of the film concerning Dan’s faith that made me smile.
The awkwardness made a great counterpoint to the emotional side of the film. All of the tragic, dramatic events were punctuated by moments of comedic relief. This lead to a few moments that could be considered darkly humorous, but were expertly delivered as light and endearing – like Donald crying and the laughing at getting the two sets of notes from his deceased wife Sally. It gave the film a thematic irony.
Stuff I Didn’t Like
There wasn’t much I didn’t like if I’m honest. This movie just clicks and wastes very little time saying what it needs to say.
There was, however, one scene I thought was superfluous: the follow-up with the doctor, in which Ron tells John not to offend the doctor, and yet ends up insulting the man’s ethnicity himself. The scene is definitely funny, but there was no real reason for the brothers to go back to the doctor. The actual reason (John wanting the doctor to explain the procedure) was never really resolved due to Ronnie’s awkward offensiveness.
The movie itself ends on a good note, but there isn’t as much resolution as I would have liked. I would have liked to have seen John and Rebecca’s twins, and the rest of the family’s reaction to them (the film ends with the two parents-to-be wheeling toward the delivery room). The drama between John, John’s ex-girlfriend Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Gwen’s husband Jason (Charlie Day) was dropped when their awkward dinner ended. It would have been nice if there was a short nod to that situation later in the film. But then again, I like things tied up in a bow generally.
Stuff to Ponder
In his acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2015, J.K. Simmons reflected on the importance of communicating with one’s family:
“Everybody…call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ’em. Don’t text, don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell them you love them, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”
Simmons’ remarks hold a lot of truth, and it’s a truth that The Hollars really touches well upon. When Sally’s brain tumor was diagnosed, all of the Hollar men met the tragic news with a degree of embarrassment because they hadn’t communicated with one another for months and years. Ron resented John’s lack of communication and saw it as a sign of John’s elitism, and uses it to cover his own failures. John feels guilt for not talking to his parents more often. And Donald (Richard Jenkins) is filled with regret because he didn’t recognize his wife’s symptoms sooner. They all spend the rest of the film trying to reconcile their feelings in their own ways, and come closer together.
Our families should be a haven for us to go, and should be a place where we get honest, positive communication. I realize that some have better relationships with their families than others, though. We desire positive communication in our lives, especially when tragedy strikes. We want to be reassured that everything will be okay. Our lives may be crumbling before us, but we want to hope that things will get better.
“…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
We have this hope, this desire on our hearts because of the way we created to feel a hope for better things to come. The God who created us assures us many times throughout the Bible that things are going to be okay.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
A tragedy like Sally’s illness and death is a big blow to a family. However, as seen in the film, this tragic event brought the family closer together. Hard feelings were made right. Pride was lifted. Life could go on. God works in all things, good and bad. It may not be they way we want it, but it is always for the best because He is in control and knows best.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
So What I’m Trying to Say is
The Hollars is a very good movie, and I would highly recommend that you give the film some love and see it in the theater. It’s a shame that the critical consensus appears to be that the film is “unoriginal,” but so what? The story may not be unique, but the characters are so likable and relatable that you genuinely want to know what happens to them.
The Hollars themselves are a reflection of many aspects of modern family dynamics. In the fast pace of life, we sometimes forget how important it is to communicate with our family. This film does a great job at conveying our need to be reassured by those closest to us that things will get better in the midst of hardship.
On a personal note, I believe that God placed something on my heart after seeing The Hollars. I was reminded by the “still, small voice” that I have not spoken recently with some members of family as frequently as I would like. I think I’ll do that…and you should, too.
Originally posted on Reel World Theology.
The Hollars (2016)
Sony Pictures Classics
Starring Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day, Richard Jenkins,
Anna Kendrick, John Krasinski and Margo Martindale
Written by Jim Strouse
Directed by John Krasiniski