Boy, this cast sure looks… swanky? Eh?! Eh?! Get it? Because of Hilary… Swank? I’m hilarious. Laugh, damn you!
The story looks like it’s about a woman who is reunited with her family whom she doesn’t see very often. Her ill mother looks like she’s almost ready to die and everyone’s just trying to prepare for that, while simultaneously, the woman is struggling with her marriage.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Hilary Swank (LOGAN LUCKY ), Michael Shannon (12 STRONG , SHAPE OF WATER , NOCTURNAL ANIMALS , and MAN OF STEEL ), Robert Forster (DAMSEL , CASE FOR CHRIST , LONDON HAS FALLEN , OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN , and CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE ), and Blythe Danner (HEARTS BEAT LOUD , and the upcoming STRANGE BUT TRUE ).
In support, we have Taissa Farmiga (THE NUN , and the upcoming THE MULE ), Josh Lucas (MARK FELT , and upcoming films BREAKTHROUGH  and FORD V. FERRARI ), Aimee Garcia (ROBOCOP , GEORGE LOPEZ [2002 – 2007], and upcoming films EL CHICANO  and THE ADDAMS FAMILY ), and William Smillie (THE DILEMMA , THE DARK KNIGHT , and the upcoming 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have Elizabeth Chomko, making her debut in both areas. Congrats, miss. Composing the score is Danny Mulhern, known for stuff that I’ve either never seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Roberto Schaefer, known for GEOSTORM (2017), MILES AHEAD (2016), QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), and the upcoming THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019). Finally, the editor is Tom McArdle, known for MARSHALL (2017) and SPOTLIGHT (2015).
Overall, I am very interested in this cast, so if nothing else, I’m curious to see how they bounce off of each other, which I’m sure is going to be fun. But honestly, it looks pretty disjointed. Dual stories being told? One about a dying old woman, the other about a failing marriage? Unless these are really thematically tied together, which I doubt, I think this might be a subpar sit. I’m calling it, I don’t think it’s going to be a good movie, but I think it’s going to be okay.
This is my honest opinion of: WHAT THEY HAD
Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns to her home in Chicago after receiving a call from her brother Nick (Michael Shannon) that their mother Ruth (Blythe Danner), who is stricken with dementia, has disappeared. Though she’s quickly found, the event leaves the embittered Nick to constantly bring up that their father, Burt (Robert Forster), is not effective at looking after Ruth and should be put in a nursing home. But Burt refuses to believe this and is constantly butting heads with anyone making suggestions other than Ruth living at home.
I don’t hate this movie, and I don’t agree with the ratings and reviews, but I understand where everyone’s coming from.
It’s incredibly easy to understand why this movie is getting a pretty subpar reaction from critics and audiences. The movie has a nasty habit of talking in circles. Most of the script involves talking about putting Ruth in a nursing home to Burt, whether it’s Nick, Bridget, or both, with little to nothing new added to the conversation. The only real difference is that Nick will be an asshole during the conversation and Bridget will have a softer tone. The padding between these scenes involve Bridget’s unhappy marriage to Eddie (Josh Lucas), without actually seeing their marriage, or her struggles with understanding her daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). By the way, nothing involving Emma really gets resolved. Completely open ended and not in an artistic way, but rather an annoying oversight from the writers kind of way. Or maybe the studios demanded some cuts. Who knows? Point is, it would have been pretty beneficial to write out Emma from the story. Not that I don’t like Farmiga as an actress. She’s proven to be fantastic when given the right material. But for a character that’s written like a stereotypical teenager, even though her character is twenty years old, she has no real resolution. She doesn’t eventually figure out what she wants to do with her life and her disagreements with her mother are wrapped up too nicely, if they’re even wrapped up at all.
To make matters worse, Burt is a mostly unlikable character, saved only by Forster’s natural charm. For pretty thin reasons, he doesn’t care about a doctor’s diagnosis about Ruth’s condition, constantly saying something like, “teenage doctors,” as if he’s an expert on mental health. I get it, he’s in love with his wife of x-amount of time. Any man would be hesitant to say goodbye in such a way and he’s just lashing out. But the fact that he doesn’t care about what his kids think, that he doesn’t even bother asking what Ruth thinks, his delusions that he’s a better caretaker than entire nursing homes makes him frustrating when he’s on screen, completely disregarding the obvious deterioration of her mental health. The only reason why I’m able to tolerate this is because, as I said, Forster is a great enough actor to make his character work, and Burt is written in a way that shows his loving side. We see that despite he’s a stubborn idiot, he’s a legit loving husband who seriously pampers his wife. Some may say that this makes him human, but I feel like movies like this are a dime a dozen with nothing all that new to say. I guess it just comes down to what movie does this idea better from your perspective.
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ And that final shot of the movie with the actual turkey? I… really groaned at that. I get it, movie, the loving elder couple had their own little sense of humor by calling each other turkeys, but showing a random-ass turkey in the middle of a neighborhood after Burt dies was just a little too on the nose. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Which leads me to what made this movie work for me.
I won’t pretend to know what Swank is doing in her personal life to deprive us of her talent on the big screen, but I am jealous of it, therefore I superficially hate it, but I think she nails her performance. Despite not seeing the context of Bridget’s relationship with Eddie, we at least believe that she’s not happy because Swank is just that good of an actress.
The characters, for the most part, also feel very real. While Bridget has been able to be more or less diplomatic regarding the blowups between Nick and Burt, it’s easy to see why because she’s not there constantly dealing with the stresses. This is exactly what Nick has to put up with. Because he lives so close to his parents, he’s constantly in the thick of everything that goes wrong and is the one that put the most thought into how to make life easier for everyone, resulting in the big fights between him and his dad. But as much of an asshole as Nick can be, it’s not just for the sake of it. He clearly loves his family and his mother, but he’s scared of her deteriorating healthy, especially early on when Ruth is so confused that she started hitting on Nick in the car. She didn’t mean to, and it’s not like he and Bridget didn’t have a good laugh about it, but that doesn’t make Nick feel any more comfortable with the situation. Honestly, as much as I love Swank, Shannon does a wonderful job of stealing the show in any movie that he’s in.
Overall, I don’t hate the movie. I suppose I enjoyed myself enough, but that just might be a bias toward the cast. I love the talent they threw in here and that’s what elevated the movie for me and Lord knows I would love to see Swank more often. But it’s hard to argue the negative ratings. Not much really happens in the movie, constantly repeating scenes louder and with a mix of characters, so I get where the hate comes from. As a recommendation, I say… viewer beware. Might be best to save this for a rental. Objectively, it’s not a good movie. Subjectively, I didn’t mind and I’m happy I saw it.
My honest rating for WHAT THEY HAD: 3/5
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