The Hollars

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Zach Braff called. He wants his movie back.

John Krasinski’s film The Hollars tries so hard to be Garden State, and unfortunately doesn’t succeed.

It’s the story of a comic-book artist in New York that isn’t happy with his job. There’s something about a character that has a job that seems fun but isn’t happy, that doesn’t garner sympathy from audiences. He’s not a plumber. He isn’t digging ditches or working 10 hour days doing manual labor. He’s drawing pictures and…aww…he’s depressed, because he’d rather be doing a graphic novel.

He’s less happy with his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick, still looking 15-years-old). She’s pregnant.

When he gets a call that his mom (the extremely talented Margo Martindale) has a brain tumor, he flies back home. [side note: Kendrick was a girlfriend in another, better brain tumor comedy — 50/50]

The way the tumor is discovered is the weirdest scene imaginable. Her husband (Richard Jenkins) hears a noise in the bathroom. He opens the door to see his wife on the floor, and smiles, asking her what she’s doing down there. Is that really how somebody would respond? If a person is over 50 and on the floor…after you heard a loud sound…your first instinct is to worry. Especially when we find out later she’s been having dizzy spells and fainting.

We find out Krasinski doesn’t have the best relationship with his brother (Sharito Copley), who is a bit of a loser, but we’re supposed to like him. He was fired by their dad, lives at home, and is stalking his ex-wife. It’s a funny scene when he’s caught spying with his brother in the car seat next to him, but it quickly gets disturbing. Instead, we’re supposed to laugh at his shenanigans, or feel bad for him because of his love for her. Instead, I just wondered why if you were going to spy with binoculars, you would park directly in front of her house. Wouldn’t you do this from a mile away? (Not that I’ve done this…)

Josh Grobin plays her new boyfriend, and it’s slightly amusing how perfect he is, even sympathizing with the ex-husband. That would work better if that type of character hadn’t been done so often in other films.

It makes this all feel like a sitcom, which is a shame, because Krasinski was so great on his sitcom The Office. This is his directing effort and it’s a rather mixed bag.

One of his biggest mistakes is using Josh Ritter songs every other scene. As a music lover, I usually welcome songs in pictures. It’s just not supposed to be this noticeable and manipulative.

The film tries too hard with the quirkiness, and often to predictable results. When John gets on an old tire swing by the river, we can guess he’ll fall into the pond. When the new husband (Charlie Day) of the ex-girlfriend shows up, we’re supposed to laugh at how insecure he is by Krasinski’s presence. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t laugh at a lot of Day’s lines. And that’s what saves this movie. It has enough humor and heart, and a terrific ensemble, to carry it through the parts that don’t work. It’s just frustrating it’s not a better film.

There’s the ridiculous scene with the ex-girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who for some reason, has invited him to dinner. She then jumps on him and starts kissing, the second her husband goes into the kitchen to grab a beer. Yeah. Not sure that would happen anywhere but the sitcom universe.

Every scene is an attempt at quirky humor, that half of it doesn’t work. It’s clunky and not the least bit original. Yet you don’t mind spending time with these characters, despite all the unbelievable coincidences and goofiness.

When Gene Wilder died, I saw a quote from him about how comedy works best when the actors aren’t trying to be funny, but are being serious. It’s an excellent point.

This gets 2 ½ stars out of 5.

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