December 31, 2018  (Web Review)

What They Had

Universal, 101 min., R, DVD: $22.98, Jan. 8

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

First-time writer-director Elizabeth Chomko’s star-studded, poignant, multi-generational domestic drama—inspired by memories of her own grandparents— is set in the Chicago area. The story begins with clips of old home movies as elderly Ruth Everhardt (Blythe Danner) slips out of bed and shuffles off down the street into the cold, snowy night, clad only in a nightgown and sweater. A panicked call from her husband Bert (Robert Forster) summons their nearby son Nicky (Michael Shannon) and his sister, Bridget (Hilary Swank), who boards a plane from California with her reluctant, rebellious daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga). By the time Bridget arrives, disoriented Ruth has been found and briefly hospitalized. The family is advised that Ruth, who has Alzheimer’s, should be in a full-time “memory care” facility, but stubborn, devoutly Catholic Bert will hear none of it. And his adamant refusal triggers predictable generational conflict. Meanwhile, Bert’s adult children have their own issues: Bridget feels that she’s in a stale marriage to a lawyer (Josh Lucas), only because her father approved, and volatile Nick, who sunk all of his savings into a neighborhood tavern, can’t commit to his long-time live-in girlfriend. Unfortunately, Chomko’s melancholy script isn’t altogether worthy of the estimable ensemble effort spearheaded by a superb Danner. A sensitive, yet ultimately soapy and familiar family drama, this is a strong optional purchase. (S. Granger)