“What They Had” Gets to the Heart of the Family Bond in Crisis

There is a lot of emotional resonance, biting interplay and resentment tempered with the uneasy respect for each other that siblings and parents have make in order to maintain the family bond in Elizabeth Chomko’s first directorial effort What They Had.

These are the kind of breathed in characters good actors live to flesh out. Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner and Robert Forster elevate Chomko’s screenplay based on her memories and experiences with living and dealing with an Alzheimer’s afflicted parent, to something that is both truthful, slightly nostalgic and always recognizably personal.

The family dynamics of straight talk that leads to I hate you one moment followed by I love you the next is nicely represented. The cast works on getting the details of resentment, seeking approval, begrudging respect and stolidly moving forward that makes family reunions and moments of crisis so wonderfully painful, joyful, awkward and internally revelatory.

Alzheimer’s isn’t the story, it is just the crisis that needs to be solved and the filter that leads to exploration, that allows the cast to flesh out their characters, pull the ensemble together and find the beats and significant details that will bring out the materials greatness. Sure some of it is overplayed, but to Chomko’s credit, none of it feels over lived.

What They Had, is a small picture, released without fanfare and will probably be gone in a forgotten breath. It will reward those who are quick enough to see it with something resonant and wonderfully true to heart.

The cast discusses What They Had:

(All photos and videos courtesy of Bleecker Street Films.)

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