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John Krasinski crafts a gently funny ‘Hollars’

There’s an OMG moment in John Krasinski’s affecting dramedy “The Hollars.” What you’re watching is director and star Krasinski shave the head of Margo Martindale, the 65-year-old actress who plays his mother in the film.

Krasinski plays an aspiring graphic novelist in New York who returns to his small town home because his mother has a brain tumor. Radical surgery is the only possibility for recovery. It is the most affecting moment in the film when Krasinski, as her loving son, insists on shaving her head so that something so violating to her sense of self becomes instead something done out of deep family love.

As you watch, you can’t help wondering if Martindale really allowed that. Did she have her head shaved just for Krasinski’s movie? What a vote of confidence that would have been for a director. Martindale has long been known inside TV and movies as an actor’s actor. She may not thrill the mass of audience members on a cast list, but another actor seeing her walk onto a movie or TV set immediately knows that really good work is possible. Was she “all in” for her role in “The Hollars” so much so that she allowed her head to be shaved?

She’s given the answer in interviews: no, she did not have her head shaved on camera. She has admitted prosthetics were used. But as you watch in the film, the scene is so believable and so emotional you won’t know that. You’re moved, whether you know or not.

What I have difficulty believing is that Martindale would not have done it if reality was required.I think she’d have done what Krasinski asked her to.

“The Hollars” is Krasinski’s second film as a director and it’s very much an actor’s movie. There is no small awkwardness in the script, as well as no small sentimental glop.

At home to visit his mother, Krasinski’s character has to deal immediately with his dysfunctional family. The great Richard Jenkins – one of the most moving character actors in movies – plays his father, the one who cries at the drop of a hat while his wife always remains as humorous and together as possible. His business is failing. His ability to continue in near-total denial about most things seems almost undamaged.

His older brother (Sharlto Copley) is a lifelong screw-up in just about everything. His obsessiveness about his ex-wife is portrayed as being a little bit funny even though it really isn’t.

So there’s our hero back in his old hometown while his family falls apart for reasons both good and bad. Can a movie as solid as this most of the time wander into sentiment so egregious that there’s actually an “old swimming hole” with a tire swinging across it? Yup, you bet. Your eyes need to be averted for only a minute or so luckily.

It’s a truly sensitive and gently funny movie much of the time, thanks to Krasinski, Martindale and Jenkins. But when it lurches into cliche, it’s clumsy, too.

But this is the kind of actors’ movies in which some of the most sensitive movies in American film and TV have been convened by an actor/director they all obviously think the world of and want to do the best for.

When you’ve got Jenkins, Martindale, Copley and Anna Kendrick (as the hero’s pregnant and ever-surprising girlfriend) giving their all for Krasinski’s movie, you’ve got a dysfunctional family that can’t help but move you.

Put it this way: every time the script gets in the way, one or more of these performers will shove it over to the side and go right for your funnybone or your heart. It all works, clumsy as it is.

Krasinski is sort of a low-grade Jimmy Stewart as a comic/dramatic actor. He’s also, obviously now, a director other actors are delighted to work for.

It all leads you to wonder: Jimmy Stewart never directed a film. In the studio system, he was just a consummate studio actor.

When you see this, you can’t help wondering what kind of movie he’d have made if he’d directed one or two.



∆∆∆ (Out of four)

Title: “The Hollars”

Starring: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Josh Groban

Director: John Krasinski

Running time: 88 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for language and adult themes.

The Lowdown: New York cartoonist returns home when his mother requires brain surgery.

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