Directed by "The Office" star John Krasinski, "The Hollars" is a Sundance dramedy about an aspiring New York City artist named John Hollar (Krasinski) facing a crossroads in his life. He's unhappy professionally and full of anxiety over the impending birth of his child, but he puts those troubles on hold to face all new ones when he leaves the city to return home to his dysfunctional family in Ohio after he learns that his mother (character actress Margo Martindale) has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
There's a somewhat clichéd notion about what makes a stereotypical Sundance movie. You know the type: modestly ambitious family dramas filled with quirky characters and tearful life lessons set to an acoustic, indie-rock soundtrack. Well, sometimes those kind of stereotypes exist for a reason. Exhibit A: "The Hollars," 100 percent.
Since it's Krasinski directing (from a script by James C. Strouse), he's able to fill his movie with a cast of recognizable faces. Anna Kendrick plays John's pregnant girlfriend, whom he has cold feet about proposing marriage; Richard Jenkins is his well-meaning, but struggling father; and Sharlto Copley is his ne'er do well brother. Mary Elizabeth Winstead shows up as John's former fiancée with Charlie Day as her new husband (who just so happens to be his mother's nurse), and there's also small roles for Mary Kay Place, Randall Park, and Josh Groban. It's an incredibly talented cast, who perform their roles well. Martindale in particular is incapable of giving a bad performance, and she provides the film's strongest, most emotionally resonant moments.
But the derivative story is a hurdle "The Hollars" can never quite clear. It wasn't even the only film about an emotionally constipated white guy who returns home to care for an ailing mother that was released at Sundance this year. It doesn't help matters that the other film, "Other People" -- starring Jesse Plemons ("Friday Night Lights") and Molly Shannon -- does a much better job with the same material (it opens in Rochester next month). Still, "The Hollars" does what it sets out to do; you'll laugh, you might even cry, but you're likely to have forgotten all about it by the time you leave the theater.