Certain actors automatically lift the level of a production merely by being part of the cast. Margo Martindale is certainly one such actor. So is Richard Jenkins.
Put those two together, which “The Hollars” does, and there’s a strength despite a script by James Strouse that is little more than cable-movie fodder. The sure-thing actors give the movie a beautiful emotional depth.
It doesn’t stop there. Director John Krasinski has cast himself along with Anna Kendrick and Sharlto Copley to put together a compelling ensemble. Even supporting players Josh Groban, Charlie Day and Mary Kay Place get the most out of their roles.
“The Hollars” follows a typical family drama/comedy format. Over the years, they have grown apart as each deals with his or her own bumps and bruises. Unlike so many movies, this is a family that is not galaxies apart so when they do come together the healing seems far more plausible.
They reunite when Sally (Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumor. It’s grown to a massive size because her husband, Don (Jenkins), has always believed his wife’s only problem has been a weight issue.
Impending surgery sparks wandering son John (Krasinski), a struggling artist whose girlfriend, Rebecca (Kendrick), is pregnant, to come home. He must deal with his ill mother, his father’s failing business and a brother, Ron (Copley), who has a very unhealthy obsession with his ex-wife.
Krasinski uses a light hand to pull all these elements together. That often means unlikely pairings of actors. The great thing about having a cast this talented is that no matter the pairing, the scene works.
Martindale brings a beauty and sweetness to the role, a welcome change from movies in which one of the parents has a dark side. It is a joy to watch how Martindale can take what should have been a filler scene and make it sparkle with just her facial expressions.
The best example is when it becomes necessary to shave her head for surgery. Martindale plays the moment with both vulnerability and strength.
Jenkins also goes against the typical father type as he’s not the cornerstone of his family. He’s a man in pain because of troubles at work, confused by what’s happened to his wife and overwhelmed by all that’s happening in his life. Jenkins can be strong when needed but is willing to show his vulnerable side, too.
Krasinski smartly leans on his cast and the result is a movie that is sweet without being too emotionally gooey. He’s smart enough as a director to allow good actors to make it look easy.
“The Hollars” follows a very predictable storyline but the journey is made far more interesting by a first-rate cast.
Cast: Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, John Krasinski
Director: John Krasinski
Rating: PG-13 (language, thematic material)
Opens: Friday, Sept. 23