The Hollars tells the familiar tale of a dysfunctional family pulled together by unfortunate circumstances. John Hollar (John Krasinski, who also directed) is a frustrated graphic novelist with a pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). When he gets the news that his mother, Sally (Margo Martindale), has a brain tumor, he goes out to see her, reigniting old tensions with his father, Don (Richard Jenkins), and brother, Ron (Sharlto Copley). Moments of familial bonding alternate with interludes of exasperation, and key scenes are scored to winsome folk songs. It goes without saying that it premiered at Sundance.
The film is earnest in its desire to convey the trials and tribulations of family life, and finds occasional pathos in John's anxiety about becoming a father. Still, it's easy to roll eyes at how neatly birth and death are paired here: Rebecca literally goes into labor at a funeral. The night before his mother's surgery, John sneaks her out of the hospital to have a big meal at a favorite restaurant, and Don and Ron join, sitting happily as a family before the inevitable. This might just be the defining scene of The Hollars: The circumstances are preposterous (John seems like he would know better than to sneak his sick mother from her hospital bed) but the comfort-food payoff is fleetingly charming. Krasinski might have revealed some interesting grains of human interaction had he given more time to the relationships between the other characters, but what we see mostly feels like frustratingly quirky window dressing for John's own issues.