Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Movie with Abe: What They Had

What They Had
Directed by Elizabeth Chomko
Released October 19, 2018

Getting older isn’t known to be an easy process. As people begin to see personality traits and physical prowess that they depended on for years and took for granted fade away, admitting the loss of those reliable things tends to be just as challenging. A couple that has been together for many years may experience deterioration of function at different levels and speeds, and the notion of separating to provide the proper care for one without the other is almost unthinkable. Adult children pushing for that outcome are almost always met with tremendous pushback from the more stable parent who won’t hear of it.

Ruth (Blythe Danner), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, wanders out into a snowstorm one night, leaving her husband, Norbert (Robert Forster), panic-stricken. Their son Nicky (Michael Shannon), who lives nearby, calls his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank), who promptly arrives with her daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) to try to help. Nicky’s eagerness to get Ruth into a facility capable of providing the best treatment for her falls on deaf ears with Norbert, and Bridget doesn’t prove to be the ally he had hoped, as she watches the way her parents care for each other and starts to wonder if she has anything that resembles that in her own marriage and life.

From this film’s first moment in which Ruth steps outside in the middle of the night, what she is going through and how it is affecting those around her is painfully clear. Fortunately, there is plenty of humor to be found in this film and in the way these family members talk to each other, often injecting serious and depressing moments with a lighter touch. Nicky proves to be a particularly prickly and entertaining character, clashing with everyone, including rebellious college student Emma, who can’t stand her mother but describes her uncle in unfavorable terms. Audience members should be able to easily identify recognizable traits of their own family members in each character.

This film assembles a terrific cast, led by an unusual choice for a film of this nature. Swank, who has won two Oscars, hasn’t had a lead role like this in a few years, and this one is nice because it enables her to smile more than usual and convey a good deal of personality and energy in her portrayal of a woman who hasn’t even stopped to realize that she’s unhappy. Shannon, while usually crotchety on screen, is also cast well in a less severe part. The young Farmiga is superb as always, and Forster is the standout as the strong-willed and unflinching husband not at all willing to compromise the way that he wants to be with his wife. This is a film to avoid for those who may have endured a similar experience because it may be too painful to watch, but Elizabeth Chomko’s directorial debut is a true success that handles a universal topic with grace.


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