By Devan Coggan
Updated August 26, 2016 at 03:49 PM EDT
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In many ways, John Krasinski’s second directorial effort is your standard Sundance fare. There’s an anxious man struggling to find his way as he returns to his hometown after years in the Big Apple. There’s the eclectic, dysfunctional family (with names like Don, John, and Ron) grappling with a serious illness. We’ve got a scene of a son sneaking his wheelchair-bound mom out of the hospital for a covert escapade to a local diner… And a scene of three men serenading their family matriarch with the Indigo Girls. And how could we have a quirky indie without a jangly acoustic soundtrack by singer-songwriter Josh Ritter? Check, check, and check.

There isn’t anything particular innovative about Jim Strouse’s script, which follows John Hollar (Krasinski, pulling double duty) as he flounders in both his personal and professional life. His trust-fund girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) is so pregnant she’s practically bursting, but the pair are hesitant to get married. But when John’s mother Sally (Margo Martindale) collapses at home and is soon diagnosed with a brain tumor, Rebecca packs his bag and books him a plane ticket back to his hometown to face his family and his mother’s illness.

There, John reconnects with the home he’s left behind, including his distraught father (Richard Jenkins), who’s been hiding his company’s dire financial situation from the family, and his immature brother (Sharlto Copley), who’s staking out his ex-wife’s house and ineptly stalking her new youth pastor boyfriend (Josh Groban). The more time John spends with his increasingly ridiculous family, you half expect Krasinski to cock his head in disbelief and give the camera a meaningful look, a la Jim from The Office.

A bevy of famous faces elevate the clichéd script, whether it’s Randall Park as Sally’s doctor, Charlie Day as an abrasive nurse, or Mary Elizabeth Winstead (completely underused) as John’s high school girlfriend. But this is Martindale’s show, and she brings an authenticity and a deadpan humor to the Hollar family matriarch. For most of the movie, she’s the family’s rock, even though she’s the one lying in the hospital bed. So when she finally cracks and starts panicking before her surgery, it’s the most honest, heartbreaking moment in the entire film.

Is The Hollars an original, breathtaking dramedy that says anything new about middle-class suburbia and family? No. But with a brisk runtime and a terrific cast, it’s a pleasant and bittersweet look at one family struggling to keep it together. B

The Hollars

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