Some family-members you just wanna forget if we’re being honest.
Bridget (Hilary Swank) hasn’t been home in quite awhile, but once she finds out that her mother (Blythe Danner) is suffering from a severe case of Alzheimer’s and is now frequently wandering-off into the streets all by herself, she decides that now is as good of a time as ever to head back home and see what she can do. She brings her daughter (Taissa Farmiga) with her and the two do their best to not try and bite each other’s heads off, as well as everyone else in the family. Cause as it turns out, Bridget’s father (Robert Forster) doesn’t want her putting her home in a home and her brother Nicky (Michael Shannon) sort of agrees. While Bridget is no expert on these sorts of things, she knows that it’s best to take care of those who need it the most and in the next few days or so, she’s going to do what she can to convince her dad what’s best, and also, find some happiness in her life that’s been sorely missing as of late.
It’s hard to flat-out hate a movie like What They Had. It’s so well-intentioned, sweet, and endearing, that it’s practically harmless; like a Hallmark movie, but with a better cast and (some) better writing. That said, it’s also a movie that feels an awful familiar and despite it seeming like a personal story coming directly from writer/director Elizabeth Chomko, still feels a little sappy.
Not to say that it doesn’t come from a soft spot in the heart of Chomko, but for me, the viewer watching idly by, it didn’t quite connect with me. Some of that may have to do with my heart being made out of stone, but really, it mostly has to do with the fact that What They Had seems like the kind of family-drama that never quite gets going, never gives us a reason to care, and depends solely on the ensemble to save the day for some of the weaker-spots in the writing.
And also, I have a heart made out of stone. That much is made clear by now.
But like I said, What They Had is an odd movie that almost reminds me of the Family Stone – heartfelt and homely, yet never as deep as it wants to be. It’s cookie-cutter material for the kind of crowd that wants the older-members of the family to come out and see it, despite not being all that heavy or thoughtful. Sure, there’s a lot of sadness dealing with Danner’s mother character and the fact that she’s literally losing her mind, but really, the movie never really digs deep enough into that to really shock or scare us. It’s a movie that flirts with a few ideas that may make it deeper and, in ways, darker than your usual adult-like fare, but it mostly ends on just being flirtatious with said ideas.
And really, it’s up to the cast to save the day, which they definitely do. Swank fits perfectly into this role as Bridget, a woman who just wants to be loved and considered for once, regardless of wherever it comes from. As her brother, Michael Shannon has some great bits and actually brings comedy, whereas Forster is always dependable to be the sort of strict, but ultimately loving father. Danner’s the best in the ensemble though, as Ruth, the woman who is, like I said, losing her mind. Every scene she has is heartbreaking and tragic, but only because Danner makes it that way.
If only there had been a better script.
Consensus: While it’s intentions are all well and clear, What They Had ultimately suffers from being too familiar and safe, even for family-dramas of this caliber.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Bleecker Street