From the outside, the complexity of the way a single family operates as an organism is unintelligible. Diagramming its biology with a few laughs and a few tears, however, has long been a plan for movies with at least moderate commercial success, and so appears the fate of this one.
The Hollars probably have something in common with your family. Though the film’s title might evoke images of swampy coastline or deep Appalachian valleys, the family is really just a melting pot white Midwestern tribe in a city that’s never mentioned along that vast highway that cuts the breadbasket of the nation, I-70. Meet Don, Ron, John and their mom (Sally). Dad’s business is failing; his rock of ages, Sally, is struggling with her weight; son No. 1 is back home in the den when he’s not stalking his ex-wife and Son No. 2 is bummed out even though he’s got it all going on far away in New York City.
But chances are, one of the other commonalities you’ll find is the sudden, scary hospital stay. When Mrs. Hollar is diagnosed with a brain tumor and the menfolk gather round, their coping strategies run the gamut from a slap fight in a hospital room between the den-dwelling, off-kilter kid (Sharlto Copley, District 9) and the limp father (Richard Jenkins, Jack Reacher) to a touching three-part rendition of one of her favorite songs as she’s wheeled off to the operating room.
Most of the tear-jerking moments end with laughter drying out their edge, but there’s enough unsettled to keep it real. The bond between mother and the good son, John (John Krasinski, The Office, who also directs) is endearing with a bedside honesty as Margo Martindale plays the woman who’s holding up many a man.
Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick’s Becca brings her own brand of smart, strong and altogether lovely, weighing in at a formidable 8-plus-months pregnant and full of insight about helping a fearful Krasinski figure out how to embrace his future and that of their new family. Since we all heard enough of it in Pitch Perfect, she holds off on the singing.
The deadpan delivery of brain surgeon Dr. Fong (Randall Park, The Interview) is a notable success in its comedic effect without leaving the bounds of doctorly credibility. When the brothers grill him about the surgery he’ll perform and Ron wants to talk about karate, Park’s incredulous face says it all.
Although it’s full of the circle-of-life predictability you’d expect from the emergency surgery plus the new one on the way, director Krasinski and writer Jim Strouse (New York, I Love You) manage to keep the story from feeling corny. If this is an example of the kind of storytelling we can expect from Krasinski’s future directorial efforts, we could be settling in for some good stuff.
Directed by John Krasinski
With Krasinski, Martindale, Kendrick and Park