What They Had Movie Review
Where did Hilary Swank go? The two-time Oscar winner has practically disappeared from mainstream cinema for the last decade, but she’s back with What They Had, a melodramatic melodrama that boasts an impressive cast and an emotional screenplay—but isn’t as riveting as it needs to be for a downer of a story such as this.
What They Had is written and directed by first-timer Elizabeth Chomko and follows a brother and sister (Swank and Michael Shannon) who return home to encourage their father (Robert Forster) to get their mom (Blythe Danner) help for her worsening dementia.
The movie has all of the basic components of a heavyweight drama—a sad story, a finely written screenplay, and talented actors repeatedly clashing throughout—but What They Had has a What We’ve Seen Before feel to it. Stories about dementia and Alzheimer’s have been done before and struggle to differentiate themselves; while What They Had has a different focus, it’s just not a subject matter asking for additional material.
The performers are all terrific, but the movie’s dreariness puts a damper on everything. Rather than elevate the material they become absorbed by it. It’s great to see Swank and Shannon sparring, but it takes a lot of effort to care about either character.
What They Had is a good movie, but it is unable to separate itself from the thousand other dreary dramas that have come before it. I see why Swank was attracted to the production, but I look forward to seeing the actress take on more compelling material.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.