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So heartfelt and fun! Loved it!
Painful but honest look into family life changing and love and commitment being hard. Swank is good.
Elizabeth Chomko presented her writer-director skills at an excellent first impression when telling a relatable, alarmingly honest family story with understandable love and struggles to be resonated by empathetic connections, benefitting from the fine cast's convincingly familial, committed efforts. (A-)
(Full review TBD)
A powerful film on a subject of how a family deals with Alzheimers. There is no way to sugarcoat this subject. The story-- at times gritty -- uses a narrative that is so tender and careful in developing each character; that by the end you feel that you are part of this family. Quality cinema at its best! Kudos to the sensitive direction by Elizabeth Chomko who is so skillful with each step to build the plot without being heavy-handed. An AARP winner for their list of 'Movies for Adults' is well-deserved.
A moving portrait of living with all the pain and sufferings of a family coming to terms with many issues.
The highlight was the ensamble cast that excel even if the movie a little slow at small times
Elizabeth Chomko's What They Had, begins like any indie drama where a pair of grown up siblings have to deal with their fading mother with Alzheimer's but ends up more a portrait of two contrasting marriages. Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon plays the siblings while Robert Forster and Blythe Danner plays the parents - and their subtle and believable performances elevate the film into something watchable. Otherwise, this is fairly low-key, predictable stuff that doesn't tell us anything we don't know or show us anything we have not seen before, except maybe that Shannon can dial down the drama and eccentricity and plays a normal character. I am sure films of this genre might mean more to someone who has been through a similar experience, but it feels too familiar and clinical, almost, to work for a more general, more indie-films savvy audience.
Overstays its welcome, but the acting is terrific
The debut film of writer/director Elizabeth Chomko, partly based on her own experiences with her grandmother, What They Had depicts a family trying to deal with the horrors of Alzheimer's. Very much in the tradition of films such as Iris (2001), Away from Her (2006), and Still Alice (2014), What They Had attempts to avoid becoming too lachrymose by finding humour in the condition and focusing on how the family are ultimately brought together rather than torn apart. It's not perfect, of course, running a good ten minutes too long and straying into melodrama more than once, but for all that, it's still a fine film, with a superb cast doing exceptionally truthful work.
Set in Chicago, the film tells the story of Ruth (Blythe Danner), who has stage six Alzheimer's, and her family; husband Burt (a career-best performance from Robert Foster), son Nick (Michael Shannon), daughter Bridget (Hilary Swank), and granddaughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). Nick wants to put Ruth in a "memory centre", but Burt won't hear of it, and Nick hopes that Bridget will back him up, as she has power of attorney.
Ruth isn't the central character within this, and her disease is not the focal point; this is a film about a family in crisis, a crisis precipitated by her illness, but fuelled by their own personal problems. Nick has sunk every penny he owns into a bar that isn't doing too well; Bridget is increasingly dissatisfied with her career as a chef and her marriage to a man who was essentially chosen for her by Burt; Emma has little to no interest in remaining in college; Burt disapproves of Nick's unmarried status, and believes Bridget's unhappiness stems from her lapsed Catholicism. One of the strengths of Chomko's script is how deftly she handles the presentation of emotions, with the audience empathising first with one character and then another, with no one depicted as completely right or completely wrong.
Another strong aspect of Chomko's script is how she is able to generate laughs from Ruth's condition. At one point, Ruth announces she's pregnant, and Burt tells Nick that in anticipation of the arrival, they've got out all his old baby things. In another scene, a solemn Nick tells Bridget that Ruth hit on him, but Bridget is unable to keep a straight face, and the two end up laughing hysterically. At church, when Emma informs Nick that Ruth has just drunk the holy water, he quips, "at least she's hydrated." When a telephone rings in the apartment, Ruth enters the room holding a stapler to her ear, complaining that she can't hear anything.
As Ruth, Blythe Danner gives a pathos-rich lyrical performance in which she must react to everything without registering anything. Foster plays Burt as a bully, albeit not a self-aware one; he has no idea how much ideological authority he wields over his children, but the strength of the performance is that he is not a bad man; he thinks he has done right by his children. Despite his bravado and machoism, however, his most salient characteristic is his unwavering love for Ruth. A scene of them exchanging Christmas presents is as poignant a scene as you're likely to see all year. Bridget is, by definition, a passive character for most of the film, but Swank gets a lot of mileage out of playing her inner turmoil; she very much wants to assert herself, but something constantly holds her back. Shannon, doing arguably his best work since Revolutionary Road (2008), plays Nick as utterly exhausted.
However, a number of factors hold the film back. Firstly, like most films about Alzheimer's, it depicts the condition as not quite as bad as it really is (Ruth never becomes violent, for example). Chomko also makes a few directorial misjudgements. For example, the final scene features a truly bizarre bit of on-the-nose symbolism more likely to elicit laughter than anything else. Speaking of the end, there are about five scenes which could legitimately have served as the denouement, with the film running a good ten minutes too long, and missing a chance for a really powerful final impression, ending on a beautifully poignant comment by Ruth.
These few issues aside though, this is an impressive debut. It's not the best Alzheimer's movie ever made (thus far, that is Away From Her), but it's a fine addition to the subgenre. Chomko elicits excellent performances from the central quartet in what is definitely a heartfelt film, which you could do much worse than to seek it out.
Playwright and actress Elizabeth Chomko makes her debut as both director and screenwriter with this drama about the affect of one woman's alzheimers on her family.
The film opens with Alzheimers-suffering Ruth (Blythe Danner) waking in the middle of the night and heading out into a Chicago blizzard in nothing but a nightie and a jacket. This acts as the movies catalyst, Ruth's son Nicky (Michael Shannon) calling his sister, Bridget (Hilary Swank) to town. Together the pair plan to convince their father (Robert Forster) to finally place their ailing mother in a memory care facility. What follows is a carefully crafted drama about familial relationships and how they are both stretched and drawn together by their mothers failing memory.
It's a small story, one family and the dynamics and struggles between them, but it is elevated by the outstanding cast. Danner is a stand out as Ruth, capturing the confusion and fear as the world around her fails to reconcile with her memory, trapping her mind perpetually in her youth. The rare moments of clarity are among the most poignant ï¿ 1/2" providing glimpses of who she was, and her fear at who she's becoming. Michael Shannon continues to be one of the most criminally underrated actors working today playing the brusque, weary and frustrated Nicky. Swank too puts in a star turn, a performance of subtle strain and tenderness.
Chomko's writing doesn't shy away from the darkness of the subject matter but finely balances it with dark humour. In one embarrassed exchange Nicky is forced to tell Bridget their mother had hit on him on their car ride home. Bridget's reaction is to burst out laughing, the two of them finding comfort in the comic absurdity of the situation. It's not the last time the family share a laugh at a situation that is at once heartbreaking and ludicrous, and the nuance of Chomko's writing means that this sense of black humour is so woven into the family dynamic it doesn't feel like a forced moment of levity for the audiences sake but rather a natural coping mechanism.
For all the talent on screen the inexperience of the director does show a little in the presentation. The camera remains mostly static, the movie having more in common visually with a well made television episode than cinema. There is potential, the opening in particular and it's symmetry with the final appearance of Ruth on screen is a high point. The movie also attempts to splice in 'home movie' style footage to show us Ruth's memories but as a recurring motif it feels clunky and adds nothing to the story we don't already get from the films dialogue.
It's not an easy subject to tackle but What They Had assuredly juggles just the right amount of melancholy and humour. For all it's imperfections this is a confident debut feature from an exciting new talent in Elizabeth Chomko, marking her place as one to watch in Hollywood.
Very relevant and true life situations.
Very touching and deep. Amazing performances throughout the entire film, especially from Shannon and Swank. Deep and emotional story that keeps you invested through the entirety of the movie