White people problems
If ‘The Hollars’ were a drink, it’d be a decaf soy vanilla latte
Charlie Day, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Krasinski in “The Hollars”
Turning an already tired, solipsistic indie-Sundance template into a full-blown Hollywood formula, actor/director John Krasinski’s “The Hollars” feels like a Cameron Crowe movie twice removed (with Zach Braff being the devolving link between the two). It’s a tale of family dysfunction writ adorable. At its center is a white American male in quarter-life crisis, and it’s all fueled by a near-relentless folk/hipster soundtrack.
Buckle up, Millennials, and grab your lattes, because we’re about to go on an emotional journey with all the feels, and no one will ever be the same again.
The premise here is boilerplate. Krasinski plays John Hollar, a struggling New York City graphic novelist stuck in a desk job who’s forced to rush back to his small hometown after his mother (Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumor. There he finds even more family problems coming to a head. These take John by surprise because, naturally, he never calls home anymore. His deadbeat unemployed older brother Ron (an oddly cast Sharlto Copley) is having issues with his ex-wife and kids, their dad (the always-great Richard Jenkins) is on the brink of losing the family business, and John has to step in and become the glue before everything falls apart.
That’s proving difficult, of course, because John finds himself at an existential crossroads of his own. Not only is he failing at his artistic ambitions, but he’s unsure if he’s truly prepared to be a worthy husband to his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), or a good father to their impending child. For her part, Rebecca is beautiful, loving, and supportive (not to mention rich), making her John’s default Manic Pixie Dreamgirl archetype, albeit in her final trimester. Yes, despite facing the very real prospect of motherhood with a navel-gazing boyfriend, Rebecca primarily exists to encourage John out of his awe-shucks angst and help him “find himself” again. Things could be worse.
They are, in fact, for the rest of his family. By contrast, when you compare John’s perceived struggles to the very immediate (and even life-threatening) ones that confront each of his family members, John’s own issues merely stack up as one big heap of White People problems. And yet, as mere supporting players to the film’s protagonist, everyone else’s more serious burdens are essentially catalysts to help John come to terms with his own, and affirm that he’s going to be okay.
Rote resentments, arguments, and regrets abound (John even crosses paths with his old high school flame) in yet another movie about pondering the choices not made, the paths not taken, and doubting the ones that have been. Predictably, apologies will be given that should’ve been long ago, and things that need to be said finally are. It’s all punctuated by the mother’s inevitable pre-surgery “head shave” being turned into a hammering metaphor—one that, for John, symbolizes letting go of the past and embracing change even when it’s scary. Yes, he may have lost sight of what’s truly important but, doggone it, it’ll all come back into feel-good focus before it’s all said and done. Sniffle.
For as contrived as this all is, where lessons are learned in a story about what happens when life doesn’t go as planned, “The Hollars” does achieve one true moment of raw emotion late in the film (thanks to Margo Martindale). But instead of letting that moment breathe, sit, and sink in—you know, actually deal with its hard reality—Krasinki’s direction undercuts it all-too-quickly with the safety net of an uplifting folk tune (crescendoing in a group sing-along, no less). It’s the defining example of a movie that thinks it’s wrestling with the real issues of life when, in fact, it’s merely coddling them in comfy, cozy frameworks.
A brief rundown of what’s happening at the Circle Cinema
OPENING SEPTEMBER 23
The second film from actor/director John Krasinski (“The Office”), this sentimental family dramedy follows a man who finds his life at a crossroads when he returns home where his mother has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. This official 2016 Sundance Film Festival entry co-stars Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, and Richard Jenkins. Rated PG-13.
My Blind Brother
This comedy tracks the intense rivalry between two brothers, one of whom is blind, as they fall for the same girl and face off at a charity swim competition. Adam Scott (“Parks & Recreation”) stars with Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate. Rated R.
Unlocking The Cage
Legendary documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (“Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back,” “The War Room”) follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise as he attempts to establish legal personhood for elephants, cetaceans (aquatic animals such as dolphins), and apes. Not Rated.
Manhattan Short Film Festival
Dubbed the world’s first global film festival, this feature-length collection of short films compete against each other for viewers’ votes in over 250 cities worldwide, including Tulsa. To learn more, visit manhattanshort.com. Not Rated.
OPENING SEPTEMBER 30
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
The unbelievable true story of a Laura Albert, a 40-year-old former phone sex operator who penned novels under the avatar of JT LeRoy, a made-up HIV-positive ex-prostitute transgender male. When the books become a sensation and celebrities clamor to meet LeRoy, the New York Times begins to investigate as Albert goes to drastic lengths to maintain the ruse. Rated R.
No Direction Home
A 10th Anniversary Screening of the Bob Dylan documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. It traces Dylan’s evolution from folk troubadour to “going electric.” This special presentation kicks off the Circle’s DYLAN ON FILM event. (Wed., Sept. 21, 7:00 p.m.)
The Threepenny Opera
Broadcast live from the National Theatre of London, this is a new, darkly comic take on Brecht and Weill’s raucous musical, hailed a landmark of 20th Century theatre. Live broadcast at 1p.m.; re-broadcast at 6p.m.. (Thurs., Sept. 22, 1:00 p.m. & 6:00)
Don’t Look Back
The Circle’s Dylan on Film event continues with this classic 1965 Bob Dylan documentary directed by D.A. Pennebaker, who will be in attendance. This special presentation will be followed by a live Q&A with Pennebaker. (Fri., Sept. 23, 8:00 p.m.)
DYLAN ON FILM Closing Event
Dylan on Film concludes with four screenings: “No Direction Home” documentary feature, Dylan short docs “65 Revisited,” “Eat The Document,” and “Bob Dylan: From The Archives.” (Sat., Sept. 24, 1:00 p.m., 7:00, 8:05, and 9:30, respectively.)
A 4K restoration by longtime fan J.J. Abrams is this year’s Circle Cinema celebration of Art House Theatre Day. This 1979 fantasy/horror classic mind-melter is presented by Fantastic Fest & Alamo Drafthouse, which includes a live stream Q&A with cast members and director Don Coscarelli. Bonus sneak peak of the upcoming “Phantasm: Ravager,” plus limited edition merchandise from Mondo! (Sat., Sept. 24, 9:30 p.m.)
A special presentation of Circle Cinema and Edible Tulsa’s Wine & Film Series. Set in 1976, when California wines were still perceived as inferior, this outrageous comedy tells the true story of how a blind tasting event by a French sommelier (played by the late Alan Rickman) transformed perceptions of California wines and shaped the future of the wine industry. Hosted by Steve Gerkin, with a post-film wine tasting. (Tues., Sept. 27, 7:00 p.m.)
For more from Jeff, read his article on “The Light Between Oceans.”