John Krasinski (of The Office) directed and stars in The Hollars, which belongs to a genre I rather like: the small family comedy about the city kid who comes home when something happens to a family member, and then learns some Life Lessons. (Think Garden State.)
Some of these are pretty awful—This Is Where I Leave You springs to mind. They can be patronizing (“look at the cute quaint home folk!”) or just dumb (“let's revisit everything we did in high school, for no reason!). But American culture is mobile and transient, obsessed with self-discovery and reinvention, and so the feeling of returning home is a familiar one.
In The Hollars, Krasinski plays a graphic novelist named John, who lives in New York City with his very pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick). His mother Sally (Margo Martindale) ends up in the hospital in Ohio, and he flies home, where his hapless brother Ron (Sharito Copley) and worried father Don (Richard Jenkins) are by her side. Hijinks ensue, for reasons of history. Ron is still in love with his ex-wife, whom he divorced, and who is now seriously involved with a kindly youth pastor (Josh Groban). Meanwhile, the nurse tending to Sally in the hospital turns out to be Jason (Charlie Day), who married John's high school flame (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Sally, faced with life-threatening brain surgery, is frankly re-evaluating her choices, while Ron is trying to hold on to the family business.
The Hollars is a film about regret, but not in the way you'd think. Typically, Hollywood romances about regret wind up urging audiences to follow their hearts. Go after the one that got away! Correct the mistakes of your past before it's too late! Live as if you'll die tomorrow!
The thing is, that's pretty terrible advice, not least because the past never goes away. Our histories make us who we are. Our commitments are what make us human. And rarely do we find happiness in the things we think will make us happy.
At every turn, then, The Hollars (penned by Jim Strouse) shows the quiet strength of committing and loving, even when it's hard, or when we sometimes doubt if the youthful choices we've made were the right ones. John's story isn't about going home and learning a quaint lesson from the old folks: it's from discovering that love gives you the courage to make the right choices in your life.
And so, The Hollars transcends its genre. When it veers toward over-cuteness, it's saved by its stellar cast and their genius comic timing (especially Martindale); when it leans dangerously into sentimentality, it's saved by its humanity, a touch that Krasinski seems to be able to exercise deftly as a director in this and other projects. It's a small film worth seeing for these reasons—and then hugging your loved ones.
There's some bad language and innuendo in the film, as well as a few off-color jokes, but in general this is firmly in PG-13 territory. A character wears a tank top that reveals the very top of her undergarment. A character is pregnant without being married (though this resolves itself by the film's end).
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's critic at large and an associate professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She is co-author, with Robert Joustra, of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World (Eerdmans). She tweets @alissamarie.