What They Had

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

What They Had
dir-scr Elizabeth Chomko
prd Keith Kjarval, Bill Holderman, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Alex Saks, Tyler Jackson
with Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga, Josh Lucas, Aimee Garcia, Marilyn Dodds Frank, William Smillie, Ann Whitney, Sarah Sutherland, Isabeau Dornevil
release US 19.Oct.18,
UK 1.Mar.19
18/US Bleecker Street 1h41

shannon forster lucas

What They Had
This darkly personal drama about a siblings dealing with ageing parents is finely written, directed and played, packed with sharp-eyed observations and underscored with earthy emotion. It may feel a bit slight as it traces a series of rather small narratives, but the powerhouse cast and writer-director Elizabeth Chomko's sensitive approach make it both cinematic and warmly involving.
When their mother Ruth (Danner) wanders out into the Chicago night during a blizzard, Bridget (Swank) rushes home from California with her university-student daughter Emma (Farmiga). Bridget's brother Nick (Shannon) is at the end of his rope because their cantankerous dad Burt (Forster) refuses to even discuss Ruth's advanced Alzheimer's. Nick thinks they need to move into a care home, which Burt rejects out of hand. These events cause ripples through each relationship in the family, to the point that Bridget question the roots of her marriage to Eddie (Lucas).
The interaction between these characters feels realistically spiky. This family clearly has deep-rooted communications issues: Bridget won't tell her dad that she's not Catholic anymore, Emma is in trouble at college but won't let her mother into her life, Nick can't admit that his marriage is over, and Burt is determined that Ruth will be fine in Florida. So while the plot hits many of the usual beats, there are layers within the characters that hold the interest. And Chomko adds touches that give the film an autobiographical kick of realism.

Each actor is excellent, offering likeable edges to people who could easily be unsympathetic. Everyone is understated, avoiding melodrama even in the most heightened scenes. Swank is a strong central figure who is easy to identify with, even though Shannon's much edgier role feels far more authentic. Forster is terrific as always, mixing Burt's steeliness with an underlying weariness. And Danner shines with a subtle, soft-spoken performance that gets under the skin.

Where this goes isn't terribly surprising, and the film's pace sometimes feels like it creeps to a halt, but there are quietly devastating moments along the way, as well as scenes that elicit a knowing smile. It's the kind of movie that resonates on so many levels that any viewer will be able to find common echoes in the people, relationships and situations. So while it's nothing flashy or particularly notable, the film reminds us that facing up to the truth is always important, especially when it feels inconvenient.

cert 15 themes, language 10.Feb.19

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... What They Had Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall