REVIEW: 'The Hollars' raises essential questions about family, life, death

by Michael Foust |

CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – There's just something about sickness, surgery and hospital rooms that forces families to come together as one – to put aside any past grievances, love each another and rally together.

That's certainly true in the new drama/comedy The Hollars (PG-13), which is expanding in theaters this weekend and tells the story of an extended family that looks a lot like many of today's American families: torn apart by divorce, separated by jobs, and rarely talking on the phone – much less in person.

All that changes when the mom in the family (Mrs. Hollar, Margo Martindale) passes out in the bathroom at home, leading to a hospital visit in which doctors discover she has a brain tumor. That sparks an impromptu family reunion, with one son, John (John Krasinski), flying into town from his New York City job, and another son, Ron (Sharlto Copley), facing feelings of inferiority in the presence of his big-city brother. While John has a steady girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) and a job, Ron is unemployed, divorced, and living with his parents. We soon learn, though, that not all is well with John.

Then there's Mr. Hollar (Richard Jenkins), the owner of a heating and cooling business that is on the verge of bankruptcy and even missed its last payroll. With major medical bills now looming, how will the family survive?

The Hollars certainly isn't a faith-based film in the strict sense, but it does spotlight the traditional family unit while raising questions about life that we all should consider. Why, for example, does it take a tragedy -- or even a minor bump in the road we call life – for us to focus on what is most important? Wouldn't it be great if a surgery or death wasn't necessary for us to recalibrate our lives?

"I'm sorry I didn't spend more time with you growing up," Mr. Hollar tells John in one poignant moment. " ... It's terrifying to find out this late in life what you should have done."

"We still have time," John responds.

Christianity is well-represented in the film (albeit briefly) in the form of a youth pastor named Reverend Dan (Josh Groban) who is married to Ron's ex-wife. Ron hates Dan – and even curses him out at times – but the minister always responds in a Christ-like matter, even offering to help fix Ron's car. The contrast is dramatic.

John and his girlfriend are pregnant with twins, but by movie's end he sees the necessity of marriage and proposes to her.

The Hollars has no sexuality or major violence, although it is marred somewhat by excessive language. I counted about 43 coarse words (details below), which puts it in the questionable realm for teens. (This one's not for kids – but I'm not sure why anyone would take a young one to it).

Overall, it a genuinely enjoyable and funny movie, with a few great lessons about life and family we all should take to heart.

The Hollars is rated PG-13 for brief language and some thematic material.

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Sexuality: None. A couple of brief kisses.

Violence: Mr. Hollar and a son slap one another and then wrestle, but it doesn't get out of hand.

Language: S—t (8), Je-us (5), OMG (7), a—(5), G-d (4), h—(4), ba---rd (5), d—n (2), Ch—st (1), f—k (1), pi—ed (1).

Michael Foust has covered the film industry for more than a decade and is the father of four small children. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelFoust, or on his website: MichaelFoust.com