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John Krasinski’s ‘The Hollars’ has both wry humor and moving moments

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John Krasinski and Margo Martindale in “The Hollars.”
John Krasinski and Margo Martindale in “The Hollars.”(Jonny Cournoyer, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

In the comedy-drama "The Hollars," John Krasinski plays John Hollar, a thirtysomething New Yorker who makes a reluctant trip back to his small hometown to help with his mother's medical crisis. He's like an angstier version of Jim from "The Office," more acutely aware that he might never find more in life — he yearns to be a graphic novelist — and less placidly bemused by the Dwights in his orbit.

If Krasinski relates in any significant way to his character's self-doubt, you wouldn't know it from the movie, on which he does confident double duty as director. This marks his first mainstream work behind the camera, and his second effort overall, including "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" (2009), based on David Foster Wallace's literati story collection.

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Krasinski infuses "The Hollars" with familiar wry humor, but he also delivers a film that's unexpectedly rich with sweetly moving moments, and a revelatory performance by character actress Margo Martindale (TV's "The Millers"). If anything, Krasinski can occasionally get overly silly for the poignant atmosphere he creates.

The movie's mix of broadness and pathos is established straight off, as a scene with John's ne'er-do-well brother (Sharlto Copley) excruciatingly crowding their parents' empty nest takes a sudden, sobering turn. John's mom (Martindale) lands in the hospital, while off in New York John's supportive, assertive, and very pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) bundles him off for home. It's quickly evident not only why he should be there, but must be: His brother and their overburdened, habitually lachrymose dad (Richard Jenkins) just aren't equipped to handle the situation alone.

Impressively, though, none of these characters is purely one-dimensional. Martindale is a reservoir of amusingly sassy strength, but her suppressed fear does surface once or twice. (A scene with John helping her get ready for surgery is terrifically tender.) Just when we've got Jenkins pegged as a helpless sad sack, he breaks out some genuine wisdom. Kendrick might appear to blindly follow her soul-searching guy, but she does call her share of shots, albeit quietly. And even John's regretfully divorced brother has his complicated side, as Copley ("Elysium") gets to play a subtler brand of screwball than usual.

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Charlie Day's angrily insecure male nurse is a tad over the top, as are some whimsical "action" sequences. But they're balanced out by touches like this script pearl: "It's terrifying to find out this late in your life what you should have done." With this hyphenate gig under his belt, Krasinski doesn't have to worry.

THE HOLLARS

Directed by John Krasinski. Written by Jim Strouse. Starring Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick. At Kendall Square. 88 minutes. PG-13 (brief language, some thematic material).


Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.