*1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY John Krasinski
STARS John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick
- John Krasinski and Margo Martindale in The Hollars (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
An agonizing exercise in indie quirk, The Hollars suggests that director John Krasinski and writer James C. Strause watched Garden State and then simultaneously muttered, "Well, if Zach Braff can pull it off, then by God, so can we!" Yet while Braff's 2004 sleeper hit certainly has its share of detractors, even they might be willing to concede that it's positively Heaven-sent when compared to this awkward and insufferable undertaking.
The Hollars actually doesn't recall Garden State as much as it brings to mind 2014's torturous This Is Where I Leave You, another all-star idiocy about the members of a dysfunctional clan coming together in the face of a familial tragedy. In this case, it's the brain tumor that's suddenly discovered in matriarch Sally Hollar (Margo Martindale), a condition that's gone untreated for years because her husband Don (Richard Jenkins) thought the symptoms were related to obesity and sent her to Jenny Craig rather than to a doctor. There also to comfort Sally are her two sons: John (Krasinski), a struggling cartoonist who has yet to completely commit to his pregnant girlfriend Becca (Anna Kendrick), and Ron (Sharlto Copley), a slacker who continues to spy on his ex-wife (Ashley Dyke) and kids, all happily living with the patient Reverend Dan (Josh Groban).
Ron is supposed to be the non-PC comic relief — he asks a Laotian doctor (Randall Park) if he knows martial arts like all Chinese men — but he's arguably the most odious screen character of the year. Of course, like almost everyone else in the picture, he's heading toward a happy ending, one achieved after the players are run through a gauntlet of tears and laughter. But while Martindale has one terrific scene that will moisten those eyes (she's easily the MVP on this 3-13 team), the rest of the picture just writhes up there on the screen, flailing against Krasinski's inert direction and Strause's abundance of comic scenes that fall flat and characters who grate on the nerves (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as John's former girlfriend, promises to perk up the proceedings but then inexplicably disappears after one solitary scene).
Faced with all the cinematic white noise that collectively makes up The Hollars, viewers are advised to just run away screaming.