“We’re family. It doesn’t make a difference.”
Directed by The Office’s John Krasinski, The Hollars tells the story of a family in freefall. The dysfunction of their family is decades old, but it’s only when the matriarch, Sally (Margo Martindale), is diagnosed with a brain tumor that the family begins to face its issues. Told with tender emotion and witty repartee, this story from James C. Sprouse is one that will keep you laughing and tempt you to love deeper, forgive faster, and try harder to be the best you were meant to be.
When Sally finds herself in the hospital, the family rushes together, confronting problems from the past. John (Krasinski) flies in from his failing graphic novel production in New York; his fiancee (and the mother of his unborn child), Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) soon follows. Sally’s husband, Don (Richard Jenkins), works to balance how he can be a husband and try to save his bankrupt company; their other son, Ron (Sharlto Copley, in a quite understated role), lives at home and can’t seem to get his life moving in the right direction. All of this comes to a head around the hospital bed of the woman they all love dearly, the glue who holds them together.
Mixed in for some laughs and side stories are Jason (Charlie Day), the husband of John’s ex-girlfriend, Rev. Dan (Josh Groban), the husband of Ron’s ex-wife, and Dr. Fong (Fresh Off the Boat’s Randall Park). These characters provide the foils that help the Hollar family work through their issues, whether it’s delivering notes or providing reasonable amounts of advice along the way.
Banter about family - and about Groban’s role as a youth minister - are particularly clever. For someone who watches his own extended family dynamics, and has sat at the hospital beds of parishioners for over a decade, there is much to be learned by considering the humor and tension of situations. A few of the other “extenuating” circumstances are laugh out loud funny.
The music here is intentionally necessary, another ‘character’ in the film’s construction. Wilco’s “Airline to Heaven” is a great example - “turn your eyes to the Lord of the skies… let those who have ears let them hear” - as it is played over a dramatic portion of the film. While this is a small screen indie kind of film, it’s careful inclusion of everything, from setting to casting, from music to dialogue, makes it feel like a much bigger story. It’s the story we can relate to, that draws us into the ways we have all made mistakes in life but that we can all be drawn back together.
While the language is salty at times, the heart of this story is undeniably the heartwarming type of story that challenges what we think about our struggles, our families, and ourselves. Through the focus of terrible event - the cancer diagnosis - we can see the way that God brings us together, healing our hearts and repairing the damage we’ve caused to ourselves and others. This is about forgiveness, about mercy, and about finding a hope and a purpose, even in the midst of life’s roughest patches.