What They Had
Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema
Summoned home to wintery Chicago by her brother Nicky (Michael Shannon), Bridget (Hilary Swank) has to contend with her mother Ruth (Blythe Danner), who’s losing a fight with late-stage Alzheimer’s, and her overbearing father Burt (Robert Forster), who has taken a deep dive into denial. Also along for the ride to offer additional aggravation is Emma (Taissa Farmiga), Bridget’s daughter who’s just been booted from her college dorm for boozing.
Elizabeth Chomko performs a deft tonal balancing act in this exquisitely detailed narrative, and her actors are at the height of their powers, uncovering humour and healing in the most trying of circumstances. There’s tremendous charm to the manner in which Bridget and Nicky reconnect through cutting remarks and considerable drama in watching them come to realize how Burt has shaped their respective self-images and impacted their lives. Ultimately, What They Had manages the challenging feat of acknowledging the damage loved ones unwittingly dole out while also leaving viewers cherishing their memories of those they hold dear.
"Exquisite… The movie has a lot of great laughs: The characters speak their minds and then some… Chomko—a one-time actress and playwright—went through something similar with her own grandparents, to whom the film is dedicated… There’s raw power in Chomko’s writing, but so much scrupulousness and craft that you feel safe when the time comes to weep."—David Edelstein, Vulture