Amid a sea of sloppily assembled sequels and halfhearted attempts at reviving the mainstream R-rated drama, finding a film that packs the authenticity and intimacy of real life has become a tiresome endeavor. That’s now mostly reserved for the theater, where you can sit in a velvety seat and watch actors have real experiences, filling the room with kinetic energy and truly transporting their audience to a place of truth.
With the intimate family film “The Hollars,” director John Krasinski — in his sophomore feature — brings the honesty found in the theater to the big screen. “The Hollars” are a family who desperately fear the future and aren’t the best at keeping in touch. To make matters worse, they devote much of their time to self-doubt. Basically, it’s all of the painfully true, daily tragedies of your family life, acted out by some of the best in the business.
In an interview with The Daily Californian, Krasinski and actress Margo Martindale discussed setting the mood on set, preparing for emotional scenes and the virtues of being on “The Office.”
“It was seamless,” Martindale said of her time on the set of “The Hollars.” “It didn’t feel like a movie, didn’t feel like a play. It felt like a life.” Even Krasinski was set aback by the profundity of Martindale’s praise, nodding and saying only half-jokingly, “That just hit me.”
That’s what you’ll get when watching the film, or rather, more fittingly, a life. Jim Strouse’s script immediately reads as an array of scenes from a home movie — nostalgic leaps from a tire swing, awkward run-ins with doctors, embarrassing sibling encounters.
Krasinski plays John Hollar, an unmarried, detached, recently-minted New Yorker with a baby on the way (with his “adorable” but not nerdy girlfriend Rebecca, played by Anna Kendrick). After his mother (Martindale) is admitted to the hospital, John is summoned back home to the other dysfunctional but loving Hollars: his brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) and always-crying father Don (Richard Jenkins).
The film captures the idiosyncrasies of life with your family, a fairly common subject of choice it seems for spec script writers. Krasinski hesitates to call “The Hollars” a “family movie” (see: “Everybody’s Fine”) — despite the film’s conventional structure — opting for the term “movie about family.” The goal was to create an honest, non-caricatured depiction of a family. Krasinski found rare truth upon reading the script, which immediately hit close to home. “These characters stopped being characters and they became projections of my relationships or my conversations — or my hopes and dreams and desires of being a father myself,” he said.
So how do you play the truth on camera? Well, first of all, it apparently helps to have the ever-charming John Krasinski as your director. Martindale credited the young director with setting the tone on set, saying, “The set was very joyous and calm. We were in a cocoon.” Safety and comfort on set were vital when diving into more emotional scenes, and it ultimately paid off, leading Martindale to provide the film’s strongest performance.
Martindale plays Sally, the matriarch of the Hollars who has just been diagnosed with brain cancer. In a particularly emotional scene, just before she heads into surgery, Sally is overcome by fear and is then soothed by her boys (husband and two sons). She nailed it in one take. It’s a master class in acting, by which even her fellow actors were overwhelmed. Krasinski, Jenkins and Copley could simply react to the rawness of her performance and radiate with authenticity.
With such immense talent on board — several began their careers on stage, and the likes of Josh Groban and Charlie Day play supporting roles — Krasinski’s job came easily as a director. Few notes were needed, and as an actor-director, he’s been on both sides of the camera and intuitively understands the intricacies of an actor’s craft. “It’s like music — you can hear a minor chord when you were supposed to play not a minor chord.” Evidently, Krasinski lucked out, with his cast consistently playing the right chords.
He’s had a history working with great actors, of course, on a little television show called “The Office.” Even heading into the release of his second film (the first being 2009’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”), he attributes much, if not the entirety, of his career to the iconic workplace comedy. Really, it’s the reason “The Hollars” was made. Krasinski attributes his creative freedom to his “Office” success. How else would you get a tiny fit-for-stage film like this made?
“This whole life is a fantasy camp,” Krasinski said about his television stint. “The opportunity I was given in ‘The Office’ was a lottery ticket.”
So perhaps we’ve all got Jim Halpert to thank for this sweet family movie — or, movie about family.