(director/writer: Elizabeth Chomko; cinematographer: Roberto Schaeffer; editor: Tom McArdle; music: Danny Mulhern; cast: Hilary Swank (Bridget), Michael Shannon (Nick), Robert Forster (Burt), Blythe Danner (Ruth), Taissa Farmiga (Emma), Josh Lucas (Eddie), Sarah Sutherland (Mary), Marilyn Dodds Frank (Marion), Aimee Garcia (Dr. Zoe), William Smillie (Gerry); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Keith Kjarval, Bill Holderman, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Alex Saks, Tyler Jackson; Bleecker Street; 2018)

“I felt I did my due diligence to plow through it once, but would not see it again for all the free buttered popcorn in the world.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The debut feature of writer-director and former actress and playwright Elizabeth Chomko is a solid, classy and  well-intentioned work that didn’t excite me despite its intelligent script and top-notch cast. The bleak drama relates to how an estranged family handles mom when she’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s set mostly in the Chicago area.

The Alzheimer-suffering elderly Ruth (Blythe Danner), a former senior-care nurse, dressed only in a nightgown and sweater, wanders out into a Chicago snowstorm. When Ruth’s California-living daughter, Bridget (Hilary Swank), is called by her dad, Burt (Robert Forster), she takes a plane immediately and arrives soon after with her own sullen daughter, Ruth’s rebellious college-drop-out granddaughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga). Burt tells her everything is now fine after she was found and hospitalized, but her brother Nicky (Michael Shannon) says that’s not so and that she should be in the excellent full-time “memory care” facility that he checked-out. Also Burt should be placed in a nearby assisted-living home. The problem is the pious Catholic Burt will not go along with such a plan of separating his wife from him, which causes a generational conflict.

Meanwhile we learn things about the family that currently haunt them, such as Bridget feels she’s locked into a loveless marriage to a careerist lawyer (Josh Lucas), telling us she only married him because her father approved. We also learn that the hot-tempered and workaholic Nick has invested his nest egg into a neighborhood tavern and can’t find the time to even propose to his long-time live-in girl-friend.

The leading actors are dynamic, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Danner, but the screenplay is a downer that makes for a heart-breaking but predictable and glum watch. I felt I did my due diligence to plow through it once, but would not see it again for all the free buttered popcorn in the world.

What They Had (2018)

REVIEWED ON 10/31/2018       GRADE: B-