An actress can wait a career for that one moment.

For Margo Martindale, who delivers a smashing supporting performance in the new film The Hollars, that moment on the big screen comes after winning her second Emmy for The Americans on television last week and a Tony nomination for the revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof some 12 years ago. The Hollars shines a spotlight on one of our most reliable character actresses.

Maybe it’s when she first looks at her son, with troubled unconditional support, as he tries to barge in the bathroom in the family home. Or, perhaps, when hospitalized for what turns out to be a serious tumor, the moment she is surprised by her other son, the one who reaches her heart and gives her the security to confide. Or could it be the way she looks at her husband of 38 years, with the wonder of time and patience? Or when she looks at herself, after her head has been shaved for a surgery she deeply fears?

No matter which moment defines Martindale’s performance, all the sequences add up to a striking turn by an actress we know so well yet have so much still to discover. What works beautifully about her performance is how she never asks for our attention, never moves herself to be better positioned in the camera’s view, never tries to make the most of a scene. As a member of the ensemble working for the piece, Martindale’s contribution gives the story its glue, the cast its heart, and the movie its meaning. Her performance is lovely, unforgettable and deeply moving.

The rest of the film, at least in its first third, is a bit rough around the edges. Ever since Terms of Endearment in the 1980s, filmmakers have been smitten by the family comedy-drama surrounding a medical issue. Think Steel Magnolias. Or The Fault in Our Stars. And director John Krasinski, working from a script by Jim Strouse, has trouble trying to find his rhythm in the first third. The comedy scenes seem to play too broadly while the dramatic sequences end too quickly for us to get to know the characters. Only Martindale seems to know how to instinctively balance on the tightrope the film asks her to walk. Once the characters arrive, experience their initial interactions, and find their individual and collective voices, the film discovers its rhythm. Krasinski proves to be an agile filmmaker who becomes more disciplined in letting the camera stay on a face without trying to grab a punch line. And he carefully modulates the timing as the relationships evolve over the course of a few days before the matriarch’s surgery.

At that moment, as well as others before, Martindale is in charge, carefully filling the screen with a command of character that comes from years of top grade theater work and a varied path on film. No matter what ladies she has played in years past, the size of the role or the time on screen, this is her moment. And The Hollars is much richer for Martindale’s contribution. She makes the movie sing. And, among the performances seen so far this year, she stands out with the authenticity of her characterization. Oscar, are you watching?

The Hollars

  • Content: High. This thoughtful look at the how a family copes with trauma offers Margo Martindale a plum supporting role she plays with relish.
  • Entertainment: High. Because Martindale is such a master of the moment and the nuance, the film entertains as it makes us think about our own families.
  • Message: Medium. As familiar as some of the situations can feel, Martindale’s authenticity as a matriarch holding her family together rings true in a performance that should be remembered.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to share a meaningful family story with members of your family can be a special time at the movies.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie offers a meaningful opportunity to discuss issues of life and loyalty and death with your older children. And share some laughs, too.

(The Hollars, running 98 minutes, is Rated PG-13 for brief language and some thematic material.)

Reel Dad Rating: Four Popcorn Buckets

Margo Martindale: One of many actresses who find their moments

As Margo Martindale basks in the acclaim of her supporting performance in The Hollars, we look back at many actresses from the past who – after years of working on stage and screen – finally experienced “the moment” when their work was deservedly recognized. While Martindale’s strong turns in such films as August Osage County, Dead Man Walking, Marvin’s Room and The Hours can’t be forgotten, we are reminded how quickly the profile can change when the right role comes along.

Let’s take a look.

Celeste Holm in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

She caught the eye of audiences as the humorous Ado Annie in the musical Oklahoma! In 1943. But no one was prepared for her peppery performance as a young woman trying to understand the subtleties of prejudice in this portrayal of anti-Semitism. While Holm went on to a colorful career on stage and screen, this was her moment. And she won an Oscar.

Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity (1953)

She was known for playing supportive wives – most notably opposite James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life – when director Fred Zinneman cast her as an all-too-willing participant in the wild side of Honolulu before, during and after Pearl Harbor. Although Reed returned to comfortable maternal roles, especially on television, her versatility could not be overlooked. And she won an Oscar.

Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry (1960)

She was the picture of goodness in the movie versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals Oklahoma! and Carousel in the mid 1950s. But when director Richard Brooks needed a fresh face to play a cynical prostitute in this movie of the Sinclair Lewis novel, he made the unlikely choice to cast this wholesome lady in a tawdry role. And she won an Oscar.

Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show (1971)

She was generating laughs on television as the overbearing Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show when director Peter Bogdanovich cast her as a depressed housewife in a depressing town in this movie of Larry McMurtry’s novel. While Leachman continued to make people laugh on television and movie screens, we all knew she could make us cry, too. And she won an Oscar.

Eileen Heckart in Butterflies Are Free (1972)

She was recognized as a reliable stage actress with a long string of Broadway roles – including Picnic, The Bad Seed and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs – when she got this chance to recreate her stage portrayal of the mother of an independent-thinking blind man. In a tailor-made role, Heckart was fierce, determined and unforgettable in a complex role. And she won an Oscar.

Beatrice Straight in Network (1976)

She was a Tony Award winning actress – but not a household name – when she appeared on screen for five minutes and forty seconds as an all-too-aware wife of a veteran newsman in this classic from Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet. In just two primary scenes, Straight defined what an actress can accomplish when playing a character filled with suggestion and nuance. And she won an Oscar.

Melissa Leo in The Fighter (2010)

She was easy to remember on television soap operas All My Children and The Young Riders before jumping to the big screen with a smashing role in Frozen River. In The Fighter  – as a mother trying to hold her family together, give her son confidence, and restore her sense of self – she is unforgettable as a woman frightened by family dynamics. And she won an Oscar.

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (2014)

She brought a career filled with strong supporting performances on television and in the movies – from her debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – to her magical portrayal of a thoughtful mother in this epic family drama from Richard Linklater. All the lessons from all the performances came together in an incandescent performance. And she won an Oscar.

No matter the possibilities for Margo Martindale, on screens small and large, her work in The Hollars will be remembered as a moment when a large movie audience finally discovered what a wonderful actress she has been for so many years in so many roles.

See you at the movies.