What They Had

First Hit: Touching, poignant, funny, and unless you’ve been near the subject it might be difficult to understand this story.

This film is about he hard choices some families must make about putting parents into assisted care.

We begin with Ruth (Blythe Danner) getting up, putting on a robe and walking out the front door. The ground is covered with snow, there’s no one on the streets and she heads down a empty snowy street to get to somewhere in her past. Her husband Bert (Robert Forster) wakes up some time later, notices his wife is not in bed, gives a slight here we go again look that quickly turns to caring concern, and he bolts out the door looking for Ruth.

He calls his son Nick (Michael Shannon) who lives nearby, who in turn, contacts his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank). Nick goes out searching for his Mom, while Bridget flies back to her home town to see if she can help. Ruth has increasing stages of dementia and it is getting more difficult for Bert, who has a bad heart, to manage and care for his wife, but he’s stubborn. Nick, being close by, wants to get his mom into a care facility and his father into assisted living. Bert is vehemently resisting this sort of move. Compounding this is that Bridget has power of attorney and rarely there to see what Nick, Bert, and Ruth go through.

A subplot to the main story is that Bridget is in an unhappy marriage and has huge communication issues with their daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). Emma has been doing poorly in college, wants to quit and her parents are pushing her to continue.

Bridget and Emma fly back together so the audience knows this sub-plot will get attention as well.

The scenes between Bridget (aka Bitty) and Nick are dynamically interesting and full of great dialogue. Their interaction when they agree and disagree is right on target. I especially liked how Nick finally tells Bridget that she’s out of touch with their parents and how exhausted he is being an upscale bar owner and the “go to” person when there is an issue with Ruth—and there’s always an issue.

Bridget tries to be a mediator, trying to find a middle path but ends up alienating both Nick and Bert. When she has a huge argument with her dad about assisted care, she finally tells him that he’s never listened to her or asked what it is she’d like in life, including her marriage. This was an excellent scene because she was doing the same thing to Emma, not asking what Emma wanted and ignoring her.

Bitty’s clumsy attempt at a flirtation with an old high-school friend was excellent. I loved how he charged her an enormous amount for changing the locks. Bitty’s surprise look was perfect.

This film has a lot to say about how families navigate through the emotions and practicalities of a loved one with dementia.

Swank was excellent and teamed with Shannon had great scenes of brotherly and sisterly love and frustration. When Swank climbs into bed with Emma, a wonderful softening takes place. Shannon was excellent as the brother who was showing up and doing his best. That his father had no respect that he was a bar owner (“…you tend bar don’t you, you’re a bartender…”) and ran his own business was perfect. I especially loved when Bert finally came to see the bar and ordered a martini. Danner was amazing as Ruth. She really captured the look and sense of someone who had forgotten who her husband was and then would remember everything. She segued from one state of presence to another with sublime clarity of the role and the disease. Forster was excellent as the stubborn husband and dad that knows best about everything. When he gets up and realizes that Ruth has left the house, there is a quick moment of, shit not again look, that segues into I care and have got to find her. This quick set of expressions was perfect. Farmiga was very strong as Emma, the troubled daughter that wasn’t being heard by her parents and she’d had enough of living their expectations for her. Elizabeth Chomko wrote and directed this wonderful glimpse into a family struggling with how to deal with a loved one’s battle with dementia.

Overall: This film is not everyone’s cup of tea, however, it is an excellent film about a real issue many families face.