The film follows John Hollar, a struggling New York City graphic novelist, who is forced to return home when his mother Sally is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Back in the house he grew up in, John is immediately swept up in the problems of his dysfunctional family, high school rival, and an overeager ex-girlfriend as he faces impending fatherhood with his girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) in New York.
Life has a funny way of throwing you a curveball just when you think you've got everything figured out. Even when you're already dealing with a personal mess, another bigger problem could get tossed on top of you like some sick cruel joke. But even at its worst, there is a joke in there. There is humor. All you gotta do is find the will to laugh and enjoy the ride. At its core, 'The Hollars' starring and directed by John Krasinski with Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, and Margo Martindale aims to find the joy during a life-changing event, but unfortunately borrows from too many indie-comedy cliches for its own good.
John Hollar (John Krasinski) is in a tight spot. Working at a New York publishing firm, he grinds away at an unfulfilling life as his girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) is about to give birth to their child. Just when he couldn't take more stress piled on top of him, John gets news that his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) is in the hospital and he has to fly home immediately. After not being home for a number of years, John is struck by all the changes. His big brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) is divorced and living with their parents while their father Don (Richard Jenkins) struggles to keep the family business afloat. On top of learning that Sally has a life-threatening brain tumor, John must find a way to put his personal worries to rest and help his family come together and get back on their feet.
'The Hollars' tries its best to have its cake and eat it too. As a comedy, it tries to find the humor in a tragic situation. As a drama, it tries to give the various characters a sense of heart and humanity by putting them through some very real emotional material. The problem with 'The Hollars' as a film is that these comedic and dramatic elements aren't in sync with each other. Moments that should be funny or at the very least heartwarming come off entirely too dramatic or take turns that aren't necessary. Scenes that are genuinely dramatic and pulling at the heartstrings in an emotional way that resonates are undercut by cheap comedy. It's this emotional tug of war that John Krasinski as a director has a hard time balancing that John Krasinski as a performer doesn't. Where 'The Hollars' gets its strength is in the performances. Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins are just perfect together. Martindale proves yet again that she's a dramatic force as Jenkins proves he's just as lovable as he always is. Copley delivers one of his best performances while Krasinski shows he can still nail the nice guy everyman.
From a script by Jim Strouse, 'The Hollars' is packed with a number of colorful characters with their own unique little story arcs. Some are genuinely interesting, worthwhile, and feel natural to the story, others seem to gobble up too much time or have a bad habit of becoming funny when they shouldn't be. Perhaps the best example of this is with John's reconnection with his old girlfriend Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose just had a baby with Charley Day's Nurse Jason. This scene doesn't really belong in the movie other than to be a moment of awkward hilarity that really isn't all that funny. I get that it's supposed to mess with John's emotions a bit and provide even more tension in his relationship with Rebecca, but it doesn't need to be there. Likewise, the material with Sharlto Copley's Ron and his ex-wife and her boyfriend pastor played by Josh Groban just distracts and pulls focus away from the main thrust of the film. Copley is fantastic in these moments, he has some genuinely emotional moments here, but the scenes themselves don't really belong and then are undercut by an odd moment of comedy.
On a personal level, the plot of 'The Hollars' hit pretty close to home. About three years ago I essentially found myself in the exact same position as John. I got a call from my father that my mother wasn't well, she was having difficulty remembering things that had just happened a moment ago. Within a few hours, I was on a plane from Colorado to Detroit with my sister arriving from Los Angeles at the exact same time. Before I left for home, I remember standing in my closet not knowing how to pack. I didn't want to bring a suit because that would be a confirmation of the worst possible outcome. That was an emotionally stressful and draining time that required multiple trips back and forth to help care for my mother. Thankfully it's worked out well, so being faced with a film about a similar experience was a bit unexpected.
To that point, when the plot of 'The Hollars' got rolling I had to steel myself to be faced with a lot of emotional material. I was ready to face some cathartic stuff, unfortunately, that material never truly arrived. To its detriment, 'The Hollars' never really gets to the guts of that scenario, at least in a way that is dramatically fulfilling. Every time the film would find its heart and pull on the strings, some silly thing that can only happen in trite indie-comedies would pop up and ruin the experience. 'The Hollars' is an okay film, no more, no less. It could have been something better. For those wanting something relatively innocuous and surface, this film is at least entertaining. Those looking for something a bit more dramatically fulfilling will likely be left out of this one.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Hollars' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures and is pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc. The disc is housed in a standard snapper Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork and a Digital HD voucher slip. The disc opens with trailers for other upcoming Sony Pictures releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
From a digital source, 'The Hollars' arrives on Blu-ray with a splendid 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The image offers up a robust amount of detail without being too flashy or video-feeling. Facial features and costuming come through terrifically, and the image gets a lot of life out of the rural areas that make up the small town where the Hollar family lives. Colors are bold and beautiful with nice saturation levels. Flesh tones appear healthy and natural and there is a nice sense of primary pop. Black levels and shadow separation are strong throughout giving the image a nice amount of three-dimensional depth. Occasionally some noise pops in in lowlight scenes and I spotted a couple instances of banding, but noting too severe to knock the score for. All around this is a pretty fantastic looking little movie.
'The Hollars' comes back with a nicely resonate DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. For a relatively front-loaded, quiet and conversational drama/comedy, the film gets a little extra audio oomph from this mix. The surround elements are subtle, but they're there if you listen. They're especially notable in the hospital set as there is just enough background happenings to give the set a nice realistic quality. Imaging is on point for this sort of film as there isn't really much in the way of channel movement, largely because the mix and most scenes don't really require any movement. Free of any artifacts or other anomalies, this audio mix gets the job done nicely.
Audio Commentary: Director/Star John Krasinski and Margo Martindale provide a nice sweet-natured little commentary track. It's informative without being too bogged down in the technical stuff. IT mostly covers what it took to capture some of the emotional moments.
The Family Trust: Inside 'The Hollars': (HD 17:44) This covers a lot of the basics for a behind the scenes sort of feature, from casting, to shooting on location, to working with the actors and so forth. It doesn't cover a lot of the material in depth, but it's good for a few insights.
LA Film Festival Q&A: (HD 18:34) John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, and Anna Kendrick participate in a lively but informative question and answer session.
Persistent Image: Margo Martindale: (HD 6:03) This is a pretty basic puff piece, but a nice puff piece about Martindale and how well she worked with the cast and the dynamic she brought to the film.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:21)
'The Hollars' is a perfectly innocuous independent drama-comedy. It's nothing too hilarious nor is it anything altogether too dramatic. It's not very challenging considering the material so those with a thin tolerance for sappy stuff may have a tough time with it. Those not needing too much from their entertainment should find some fun. Sony Pictures brings 'The Hollars' to Blu-ray in terrific order with a beautiful A/V presentation and a decent assortment of bonus features to sift through. I wasn't a fan of the film by the time the end credits rolled, it was an okay film with great performances, so on that level, it's at least worth a look.