What They Had,
directed by Elizabeth Chomko
(R, 1 hour, 41 minutes)
Elizabeth Chomko's feature debut What They Had has good things going for it, including a remarkable cast. It has moments that push back against easy sentimental reaction. It's getting good reviews. It's just not as good as it could have been. The story feels more trite than other treatments of Alzheimer's dramas.
What They Had pales beside Sarah Polley's 2006 feature debut Away From Her. It's not as effective as 2014's Still Alice. Tamara Jenkins' scarifying The Savages (2007) covers much the same ground. What They Had is far more predictable. The beats just fall into place.
Still, it is good to see Blythe Danner and Robert Forster. She, as Ruth, is the ailing one, leaving her bed in the middle of the night to wander through Chicago in the snow. He, as Burt, is her stubborn husband, insistent on keeping her at home despite her inevitable slipping away.
Son Nick (Michael Shannon) is the realist -- Ruth needs around-the-clock care that can only be provided by professionals in a secure environment. So Nick calls his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank) in California. She rushes to Chicago with her college-age daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) to confront the old man. Or maybe not.
In close quarters over Christmas, members of the family rub against one another, airing grievances and confessing secrets. It's all filmed in a handsome style that emphasizes the curious tastefulness of the working-class milieu.
By no means exploitative or crass, What They Had feels a little too safe, a little too pat. No doubt Chomko will do better work. She's probably not quite satisfied with this one.
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MovieStyle on 01/11/2019
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