Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, and Michael Shannon star in ‘What They Had’ – an intimate family drama about a woman who returns home to help her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother, while also grappling with her own past.
Why do families continue to fascinate on the big screen? Maybe because, amid the superheroes and fantasies that dazzle us, great films about family mirror our own lives, illuminating us at our best while reassuring us about our imperfections. Elizabeth Chomko contributes something new and valuable to the canon with What They Had. Based on her own screenplay, which won a coveted Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this is a story of a family drawing closer even as illness threatens to tear it apart.
Bridget (two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank) is forced to fly back home when her mother’s cognitive decline leads to life- threatening actions. As she falls deeper into Alzheimer’s disease, Ruth (the brilliant Blythe Danner) recedes from everyday matters; she is fragile, but never fails to cut to the quick of what counts. Bridget’s brother Nicky (Michael Shannon) refuses to indulge any sentiment about Ruth’s illness. His hard pragmatism may just be his way of masking his pain at the thought of losing his mother, but it gnaws at the family’s already-tenuous connections nonetheless.
Chomko perfectly captures the rhythm of this group — the roles each has come to play, the conversations carried on in shorthand, the resentments and loyalties that define who each is to one another. Certain scenes look, sound, and feel transported from real life. In addition to the rich, authentic sibling dynamic that Swank and Shannon create, supporting performances from Robert Forster and Taissa Farmiga deepen the story as Ruth’s behaviour pushes her family to a breaking point. For anyone who has lived, loved, suffered, and grown among family, What They Had offers many rewards.
‘What They Had’ cast and director interview with Ikon London Magazine
The International premiere took place at the Roy Thompson Hall, Toronto where cast and director were in attendance. Ikon London Magazine learned about how engaged Robert Forster felt about his role. It almost felt like he was still in the character. With intensity and conviction, Robert said on the record: “The job of Burt is to care for his wife and I want to care for her myself. She can’t get a better care from anyone else than she is going to get from me. And this is my position and the kids can go jump in the lake. She is coming with me; I am not going to let her into an institution.”
The first-time director Elizabeth Chomko, also spoke to Ikon London Magazine: “It was a long process. It was almost eight years from the conception until today. But it was a very personal story that sparked for me and then it was about getting that confidence to follow that voice, which is something that is hard – to take that space.” Speaking of what gave her the confidence, Elizabeth told Ikon London Magazine that it was “a sense of connecting with something greater.” A message that resembles Bradley Coopers’ answer at the press conference when he remarked that “the art is somewhere there. We don’t create art, we just connect to it and channel it”. Congratulations to Elizabeth for staying focused and following through.
As to the newly-wed Hilary Swank, she was radiant on the red carpet accompanied by her other half. The film is coming to London and was picked for the worldwide distribution, Chomko confirmed, so all Swank fans will have a chance to see her in all her A-list glory soon.