John Krasinski is at his best during the small moments. The actor seems to thrive in scenes when a subtle movement or single phrase means everything: a wide smile to brighten an awkward family dinner in It's Complicated, a worried stare at what lies ahead with a pregnant wife at his side in Away We Go, or a quick, eyes-wide look into the camera as a secretary sleeps through a meeting with her head on his shoulder.
There are no moments like these in Krasinski's latest, The Hollars — a film he stars in and directed. In fact, the subtlety and timing that have turned the actor into a star are completely absent. The movie races through its winding plot with ridiculous speed, not pausing long enough to find the right tone or truly earn any of the melodramatic scenes that pepper its 88-minute run-time.
Krasinski plays John Hollar, a restless graphic designer who gets called back to his middle American hometown when his mom (the always good Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with brain cancer and must undergo emergency surgery. Hollar finds chaos at home as his dad (Richard Jenkins) is struggling to keep his business above water and his brother (Sharlto Copley) is still reeling from a divorce. Family duty comes at a bad time for Hollar though, as his girlfriend back home (Anna Kendrick) is very pregnant (and you can see where that storyline is going to go). In addition to all this, Hollar's former hometown girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) still has feelings for him despite being married to Jason (Charlie Day), who just so happens to be Mrs. Hollar's nurse.
It's all one big mess. But so are most families, so it makes sense, right? Not quite. Writer Jim Strouse's script is really what takes this movie out at the knees. It fails to find the crucial balance between reality and comedy that any dramedy desperately needs, and manages to contain about six attempted climactic moments. Yes, life can come at you fast, but not this fast.
Any kind of success that could possibly be built up by the direction of Krasinski or the dynamic acting of this superb cast is toppled by the fact that they're all working with material that feels all too much like a parody of the indie family drama genre it's after. They all feel overqualified to be paired with it.
Frankly, too much happens in this movie and a lot of it is wholly unoriginal and stale. If only Strouse eliminated a few of the movie's twists and let some of its subtlety (something the writer utilized well in his last venture, People Places Things) shine through, I wouldn't have let out a few groans during the press screening and The Hollars would be a thoroughly enjoyable experience instead of a "what if."
Look, I'll say that there's no doubt the feeling that overtakes a family when a parent gets sick is a complex, difficult thing to capture. It's a hard thing to even describe in real life. So we turn to art to see if it can do it instead. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's just as much of a jumbled mess as what you're feeling and you come away having gained nothing — feeling nothing. Unfortunately for Krasinski and company, at the end of The Hollars, this reviewer felt exactly nothing as the credits rolled.