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Tedious family dysfunction dramedy ‘The Hollars’ chokes on feel-good treacle

John Krasinski as John Hollar and Margo Martindale as Sally Hollar in “The Hollars.”
John Krasinski as John Hollar and Margo Martindale as Sally Hollar in “The Hollars.” Sony Pictures Classics

You know that feeling after stuffing yourself with way too much chocolate — bloated, slow-witted, and mean, you have this taste at the back of the throat, a creepy mix of corn syrup and bile?

That’s pretty much where I was by the end of “The Hollars,” an uneven, perpetually redundant comedy-drama about the loving bonds that help a typical, middle-class Ohio family rise above its many — many — dysfunctions.

Opening with a promising first act comprising well-observed, edgy humor, the film ends with an overdose of treacle so syrupy, so pungent, it will unsettle the strongest tummy.

“The Hollars” is the sophomore directorial effort from actor John Krasinski, who made a noticeable splash with 2007’s ambitious, if inconsistent, David Foster Wallace adaptation, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”

His debut received wildly mixed reviews. And “The Hollars” — despite fine performances by a first-rate ensemble that includes Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, and Anna Kendrick — descends into a chaotic free-for-all of plot twists that has Krasinski throwing everything at his audience, including the kitchen sink, as well as the stove, the linoleum floor, and those awful, dingy squares used in drop ceilings.

The story is told largely from the point of view of John Hollar (Krasinski), a 30ish aspiring graphic novelist who has a miserable job at a New York publishing house. A perpetual teen lost in daydreams, his life is regimented by his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Kendrick), a wealthy, grounded woman who’s waiting for a marriage proposal that never seems to come.

John crashes down into the real world — and the rest of his family — when he flies off to his parents’ house in Ohio upon hearing that his mom, Sally (Martindale), has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jenkins is great as the Hollars’ ineffectual patriarch, Don, a small-business owner who bursts into tears every five minutes.

Sally awaits an operation while the rest of the brood is ensconced at her house, where eldest son, Ron (Copley), lives rent-free after losing his job, his wife, and his dignity.

The film raises serious issues — the decline of the middle class, health care costs, the trials of parenthood — only to sabotage itself with an insane, never-ending, relentlessly life-affirming story line that veers hither and thither to include utterly contrived plot points and an ocean of themes — in addition to a major illness, unemployment, and divorce, there’s bankruptcy, a wedding, a funeral, a birth, a custody dispute, and even the ministrations of a wise young pastor (Josh Groban).

This is a film that doesn’t know when to end, made by a filmmaker who seems convinced that if he doesn’t express every idea in his head in this one movie, his world will end.

It’s a shame. Krasinski is a terrific comic actor and clearly has potential as a director. I just wish he’d slow down and take a breath.

The Hollars

Rated: PG-13 for some profanity, thematic elements. Starring: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins. Director: John Krasinski. Running time: 88 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

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