“You won’t know until you get there that you’re okay.”
Can a comically dysfunctional family deal with a looming crisis? That is the setup for The Hollars, but there’s more here than bumbling through the situation. It also provides a bit of insight into what it means to be family even in the most difficult times.
John Hollar (John Krasinski) is a struggling artist trying to make it in New York City. He’s soon to become a parent along with his girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). When John gets a call about his mother’s (Margo Martindale) serious health issue, he must go back to the small Ohio town he’s from and deal with his father (Richard Jenkins) and brother (Sharlto Copley) who are all pretty tied up in their own issues. All of the foibles are exaggerated for comic purposes, sometimes to the detriment of the story.
This film brings together end of life issues and the beginning of life issues. There are always fears around both. Some of those fears are about ourselves (what will become of us) and some are focused on others (who will take care of loved ones). These fears are treated with humor, but also with a good dose of pathos. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when John volunteers to shave his mother’s head before surgery. For the nurse to have done it would have just been too cold and clinical. But as John does it, we sense an intimacy and love that could help his mother through something that is very difficult.
When birth and death are so near in a film, we should expect that we are being asked to reflect not just on mortality, but on the meaning of all that lies between those two bookends of life. John is standing in both worlds—one that is full of possibility, excitement, and joy, and one that brings grief and sorrow. We mark our lives with such events, but life is really not about either as much as it is about all that fills in between. That is what John is beginning to learn as he worries about his mother’s health and also worries about what it will mean to be a father, responsible for another’s well bring. Life is what we find between birth and death—not just ours, but the many points of transition that fill our years.
Photos courtesy of Sony Picture Classics