Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. “The Hollars” is a Sundance dramedy about a mope who returns from the big city to his hometown to deal with family issues, and finds both the hometown and the family issues unchanged (depressingly so) yet somehow alien to him now. Alas, directed by John Krasinski (who also stars), this thing is as generic as it sounds, right down to the indie-folk soundtrack full of “hey ho” guitar songs. I know for a fact that Krasinski has been to Sundance before. Did he not watch any movies there? THEY WERE LIKE THIS.
Krasinski plays John Hollar, a New York City publishing-company drone with artistic ambitions who rushes back to Ohio when his mother (Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with a tumor. The Hollar family is mostly loving but barely functional; Dad (Richard Jenkins) and John’s trainwreck brother, Ron (Sharlto Copley), get into a slap-fight in Mom’s hospital room within minutes of John’s arrival. John’s pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), shows up soon to offer support, and to subtly remind John that he needs to figure himself out and work through his family’s craziness.
The cliches pile up. John, it goes without saying, doesn’t call or visit often enough. Dad is having money problems and might lose his business. Ron, who’s just moved back in with the parents, can’t let his ex-wife go, keeps sitting in his car outside her house. (Granted, she’s married to Josh Groban now. That would infuriate anyone.) There’s contrived wackiness around John’s old girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) still having the hots for him, despite being married to another high school acquaintance, Jason (Charlie Day), who happens to be Mom’s nurse.
Written by James C. Strouse (whose first Sundance script, “Lonesome Jim,” was cut from the same template), the film’s humor is often silly and broad — a slap-fight here, Ron assuming an Asian doctor knows martial arts there — and is at odds with the down-to-earth, “realistic” tone of the drama. The drama, meanwhile, is rudimentary and weightless, with banal epiphanies (“It’s terrifying to find out this late in your life what you should have done”) and useless subplots (everything not directly involving John), eventually demanding emotions that it absolutely has not earned. And just when the story is over, whoops, don’t forget Chekhov’s Uterus: a pregnant woman introduced in the first act must give birth in the last act.
The real pity is that Martindale and Jenkins give endearingly authentic performances as the parents, two good souls who regret certain things in the past but have stuck together and love their screwed-up kids. They’re far better than a by-the-numbers film like this deserves. They almost trick you into thinking it’s a good movie, the way a tasty complimentary breakfast muffin can color your memories of a cheap motel. But it’s not gonna work, “The Hollars”! I can show you the bites I got from your cinematic bedbugs.
D+ (1 hr., 28 min.; )