REVIEW: The Hollars

23 08 2016

The HollarsSundance Film Festival

With a tender blend of comedy and drama, solid work from a big ensemble cast comprised of some surprising players as well as an acoustic-heavy soundtrack, John Krasinski’s “The Hollars” more or less epitomizes the kind of film that put Sundance on the map. And yet precisely because Krasinski earnestly embraces just about every indie cliché, the film manages to move and delight.

Sure, we could probably do without Krasinski’s John Hollar, another struggling artist (a graphic novelist) who fumbles when it comes to commitment. But he’s worth taking a journey with since Krasinski endows him with the kind of idealized everyman charisma that he perfected in 9 years behind a desk in “The Office.” John does not hesitate to break down as his world collapses around him, and Krasinski is there with vulnerability and empathy.

Yes, we likely do not need another dying mother like Margo Martindale’s Sally Hollar, whose sudden brain tumor discovery brings John home from New York. A few minutes into her spewing Southern fried wisdom, however, and you hope she never stops. Sally knows exactly what to say to people while also possessing the uncommon gift of knowing when people need to hear her sharp observations. She’s the glue holding together the lives of her husband and two sons, and Martindale approaches her character’s dawning acceptance of the the inevitable with a truly moving grace.

Fine, we might not need the vast array of supporting turns. Anna Kendrick is delightful, per usual, as John’s newly pregnant girlfriend Rebecca, although the script gives her little to do besides constant worrying and supporting about her boyfriend. Charlie Day provides nice comic relief as a jealous ex-high school rival of John; the fast-talking pipsqueak routine is very in line with his persona, though. Richard Jenkins turns in another excellent performance as an emotionally distraught patriarch. (The only real surprise of “The Hollars” is Sharlto Copley, in his first non-effects driven film, as John’s unexplainably neurotic brother Ron.)

Complain all you want about this movie existing. Point out all the boxes it checks. But “The Hollars” is here whether you like it or not, and Krasinski welcomes all with a wide embrace and an open heart. Be it your first or umpteenth indie family dramedy, the genuineness of the film can be disarming for those willing to let their guard down and just fall for its charms. B2halfstars

REVIEW: People Places Things

24 04 2015

People Places ThingsRiverRun International Film Festival

To the surprise of everyone who goes to the movies today, Woody Allen tends to think he is not a very influential filmmaker.  In just the past year, however, I cited “Obvious Child,” “Begin Again,” “Wish I Was Here,” and “Listen Up Phillip” as bearing the stamp of his stylistic inspiration.  Yet none of those come close to how Jim Strouse’s “People Places Things” approximates Allen’s work.

Were it not for the cutesy classroom instruments score, I might honestly have thought Allen directed the film himself had there been no name listed in the credits.  I need to check and see if the repeated mantra, “Happiness is not a sustainable lifestyle,” is ever uttered by one of Allen’s curmudgeonly characters or surrogates.

“People Places Things” provides a deserved moment in the spotlight to Jemaine Clement, the Kiwi comedian, after thankless supporting roles in big-budget mediocrities like “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Men in Black III.”  In his character Will’s own words, he’s just having a bad life.  He catches his life partner cheating on him at their twin girls’ birthday party, feels professionally frustrated in his work as animator and professor, and still lives in Astoria.  There are only so many traumas a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming!

Throughout the film, he tries first and foremost to succeed in his roles as father and teacher.  But romantic feelings for his ex as well as his student’s mother (Regina Hall) sprout up, usually leaving Will reeling.  In the mere 85 minutes of “People Places Things,” the character undergoes a full journey of juggling his many roles and figuring out what really matters.  Credit Strouse for keeping the film on thoughtful, measured footing.  It would have been all too easy for the whole enterprise to become as frenetic as its neurotic protagonist.  B+3stars