Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Elizabeth Chomko's family/dementia drama, WHAT THEY HAD, finally opens in South Florida

The critical verdict on WHAT THEY HAD, the new film (her first) written and directed by actress Elizabeth Chomko, seems to be that it is very well-acted (it is indeed) but otherwise fairly forgettable. Some critics have also declared that it is all about an older woman, Ruth (played by Blythe Danner), descending into dementia. Wrong. The character is clearly already demented, even as the film begins. The movie's real theme is how the family members surrounding Ruth deal with her dilemma, as well as why they choose to do this. Or not.

All this makes the movie more complicated than you might initially expect, and Ms Chomko (pictured at left) provides enough decent dialog and varied situations to give her characters the opportunity to unveil themselves in relatively believable fashion, even as we audience members begin to understand them more fully.

Chomko's ace-in-the-hole is her very smartly chosen cast, each one of whom turns in an excellent performance. As the older generation, Ms Danner (below, left) and Robert Forster (below, right) as her husband, Burt, offer up some beautifully layered work: she moving easily between a demented state and some brief times that approach normalcy, he as the loving but hugely stubborn caretaker who refuses to admit the need for further help.

The younger generations are shown via Ruth's daughter (Hillary Swank, below, left) and grand-daughter (Taissa Farmiga, below, right), both of whom have their own rather typical but also highly detailed and believable way of dealing with the situation.

Best of all perhaps is that terrific actor Michael Shannon (shown below, second from left), playing Ruth's and Burt's son, Nick, who grows increasingly freaked out by the nighttime wanderings of his mother, particularly after she, in one of her "elsewhere" moments, has made a sexual advance toward him.

During the course of this 101-minute movie, the family's history spills slowly out, with perhaps a little too much exposition, though not a deal-breaking amount, and some welcome humor generated along the way. Parents and children have their defining moments and a certain amount of "closure" is reached. What They Had may not be groundbreaking in any way, but the situation it deals with head-on is one that many of us will have to face -- first as caretaker and finally, perhaps, as patient. Ms Chomko's film proves a decent addition to the growing sub-genre of aging-parent-with-Alzheimer's.

From Bleecker Street, the movie -- after opening last month in major cities -- hits South Florida this Friday, November 9. Look for it in the Miami area at MDC's Tower Theater, in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theater, and at the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth.  Wherever you live around the country, to find the theaters nearest you, simply click here -- and scroll down.

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