WHAT THEY HAD – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Inspired by what happened in the real-life family of Writer/Director Elizabeth Chomko, her new film What They Had is amazingly tender, heartfelt and superbly acted.
The film tells the story of a Chicago family around Christmas time. The parents Burt (Robert Forster) and Ruth (Blythe Danner) are in their mid-seventies and still live on their own. Their grown kids Nick (Michael Shannon) who has just put his life's savings into buying an upscale bar and Bridget (Hilary Swank) who is living on the West coast and dealing with her dissatisfaction over her twenty-year marriage. All are dealing with the issues that come with the later stages of dementia that Ruth is living with. Burt has been her loving caretaker for the last few years and refuses to consider moving to a long-term care facility. Bridget and her college-age daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) are called to Chicago when Ruth walks out of the house in a snowstorm in the middle of the night and goes missing. They find her in one piece, but this brings the need for assisted living to a head. Burt is stubbornly against it, and Nick, who is dealing with all the emergencies with his aging parents by himself because he lives the closest says its time. Only Bridget, who has a power of attorney over her parents, has the final say.
What They Had is a study in the complicated dynamics that make up most families. We see the loving, tender relationship that the parents have and the cold marriage that Bridget is stuck in. Then there’s Nick, who’s afraid to commit to the girlfriend he’s dated since college. He also knows by his parents' example what it takes to have a good marriage. Throw into the mix of young Emma who’s heartbroken over her grandparent's deteriorating situation while at the same time struggling to find her own way in life. Which she’s afraid doesn’t include going to college as her mom and dad have planned. At the heart of it, Ruth and Burt have spent a lifetime loving each other and now, all those memories are cruelly slipping away from her. The scenes with those two actors will break your heart. Anyone who has been touched by dementia or Alzheimer's in their family will agree that the actors got the mannerisms of the afflicted down pat and the agony that the rest of the family deal with portrayed with an empathic touch.
What They Had tells a very moving story in a short amount of time. Most dramas of this caliber are two and almost three hours long. I can’t give it enough praise, from the excellent writing to the Oscar-worthy performances of the lead cast – truly, a must-see film this season. I give it a solid A+ rating.
Directed by Elizabeth Chomko
Written By Elizabeth Chomko
Selig Rating A+
Running Time 1hr 41min
Release Oct 26th
Starring: Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.