Digging For Fire


A bunch of bros hanging out.

A bunch of bros hanging out.

(2015) Drama (The Orchard) Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Jane Adams, Tom Bower, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Ron Livingston, Jeff Baena, Timothy Simons, Padraic Cassidy, Steve Berg, David Siskind, Jude Swanberg. Directed by Joe Swanberg

Relationships are impossible. I mean, making them work is – first of all, you have to find someone with whom you can co-exist. Someone whose idiosyncrasies won’t drive you bonkers. Second, you have to find someone whose ideals, goals and philosophy is compatible with yours. Finally, you have to find someone with all that with whom you will grow in the same direction. What’s the secret to making all that happen?

Tim (Johnson) and Lee (DeWitt) are housesitting for some Hollywood types out shooting on location. They’re treating it like a bit of a vacation since the home they’re watching is up in the Hills and has all the amenities you could possibly imagine. However, as of late, the two have been having problems. Tim has been feeling emasculated and when Lee’s mom (Light) and dad (Elliott) want to foot the bill to send their son Jude (Swanberg) to an exclusive pre-school that they can’t afford, that sensation only gets worse. Of course, if Sam Elliott were my father-in-law, I’d feel emasculated too.

For Lee’s part she’s tired of putting up with Tim’s childish behavior and his lack of inertia. He seems to be stuck in a rut and she’s frustrated – in more ways than one. To put it bluntly, she has been reading a book called The Passionate Marriage and it isn’t about fruit. When one of Lee’s friends (Lynskey) organizes a girl’s night out for her, Lee jumps at the chance, and agrees to take Jude to visit her parents, giving Tim some time to do the taxes which he has been putting off for too long. Tim found a bone and a rusted gun buried in the yard and he’s been obsessing over that.

Of course, Tim decides to chuck the taxes aside and brings a battery of bros over, including the somewhat over-the-top Ray (Rockwell) as well as Billy T. (Messina), Phil (Birbiglia) and Paul (Berg). Much alcohol and recreational substances are ingested, and Ray brings over a couple of girls including Max (Larson), with whom Tim begins to flirt.

When Lee’s friend is forced to cancel, Lee decides to just have a night out on her own. When a drunk obnoxious guy tries to hit on her, she is rescued by bar owner Ben (Bloom) who gets hurt when the drunk gets belligerent. Lee accompanies him home on the back of his motorcycle so she can give him some first aid; it becomes apparent that the two are attracted to one another. Can the two stay true to one another or are things that far gone?

Swanberg, one of the originators of the mumblecore movement, has retained some of the elements of those films here, although I would hesitate to classify it as true mumblecore. Swanberg tends to allow his actors to improvise their dialogue so the conversations sound real. He also has a tendency to examine relationships from a distance, a means I think of giving the audience some perspective which takes a little bit more work than making them feel invested or part of the relationship onscreen. Rather than rooting for Lee and Tim, we’re more observers of Lee and Tim. We’re not invested as to whether they stay together or not and so regardless of which way it goes, we don’t feel like it’s a monumental situation. As in life, there are reasons for them to stay together and reasons for them to drift apart and there really is no way to know which one would be best for them and just like in life, the decision has resonance in both directions.

The cast is extraordinary for a Swanberg film, and there really isn’t a false note in any of the performances. The humor here is bone dry (no pun intended) which is typical for Swanberg and it shows up in unexpected but appropriate places. Swanberg has a deft touch as a director and it really shows here to nice effect.

Some of the movie is a bit disjointed and some of the scenes feel like they were either added on as an afterthought, or were stranded when other scenes were left on the cutting room floor. I would have liked a little bit more flow. The movie’s denouement is on the quiet side and some may find that the payoff isn’t what they wanted.

I must say that I’ve been liking Swanberg’s work more and more with each passing film. He is certainly a rising talent with a lengthy filmography already to his credit (Swanberg regularly churns out two to four movies a year). While it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he might be behind the camera for a big budget franchise movie someday, I kind of hope he doesn’t. He seems to excel at movies that take a moment in time or a slice of life and let us examine it thoroughly. Through that lens, we end up examining our own lives, particularly who we are, where we are, what we want to be and what we want out of life and love. Heady questions to be sure.

To answer the question, there is no secret to making a relationship work. It takes dedication, focus, hard work and willpower. In other words, it takes the same things to make any sort of worthwhile pursuit work. Which makes sense, when you think about it.

REASONS TO GO: Nifty cast. Dry sense of humor. Nicely captures inner workings of couples.
REASONS TO STAY: A little disjointed in places. Payoff might not be enough for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references, some foul language and brief graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rockwell, Adams and DeWitt all co-starred in this summer’s remake of Poltergeist while Larson and Birbiglia also starred in Amy Schumer’s hit comedy Trainwreck this summer.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/15: Rotten Tomatoes 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :The Big Chill
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Air

Pick of the Litter – August 2015


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

(20th Century Fox) Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Jamie Bell. The Fantastic Four is one of Marvel’s signature properties, a superhero team that for many years was one of their go-to comic book franchises. It hasn’t translated well cinematically, with two movies whose light tone alienated a lot of fans. Fox is trying to reboot the franchise with Josh Trank (Chronicle) at the helm and a more modern take on a series that has taken criticism for being behind the times. Marvel recently canceled the comic book series and is refusing to promote the movie which doesn’t bode well for their relationship with Fox, who also owns the X-Men cinematic rights. Still, a good movie can cure a lot of ill will, and there are those who think that this might be the movie that establishes Reed Richards and company as a blockbuster film franchise. August 7

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet

Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet

(GKIDS) Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, John Krasinski, Quvenzhane Wallis. One of the great artists of the early 20th century was the Lebanese-born Gibran. A true Renaissance man, he was a philosopher, poet, writer, painter and counterculture icon. His best known work is The Prophet, in which the prophet Almustafa, on the way to the docks to board a boat that will take him home after 12 years of exile, stops to talk to nine different people about various facets of life. Taking the form of prose poetry, there are poems within the novel that have been animated by separate directors in the movie with a variety of styles. From the trailer, the movie looks visually stunning. This could be a masterpiece of animation if the rest of the movie is as good. August 7

Call Me Lucky

Call Me Lucky

(MPI) Barry Crimmins, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Marc Maron. Barry Crimmins is one of those comedians who was better known to stand-up comics than to the general public. His humor was topical and his style confrontational. He pulled no punches, he’d hold no bars. And yet beneath all that anger beat a compassionate heart, particularly for those who suffered the same childhood that he had – and there were many who did. When he discovered that sexual predators were using America Online to find children for pornography and sexual encounters, he knew he had to put a stop to it. He took his fight all the way to Congress. This stirring documentary is the work of friend and colleague Bobcat Goldthwaite. August 7

How to Smell a Rose-A Visit with Ricky Leacock on His Farm in Normandy

How to Smell a Rose: A Visit With Ricky Leacock on His Farm in Normandy

(Film Forum) Richard Leacock, Valérie Lalonde. Master documentarian Les Blank turns his cameras on a colleague, a cinematographer who helped pioneer the hand-held camera which paved the way for modern documentaries today. Leacock now lives a bucolic life on a farm in Normandy (hence the somewhat unnecessarily unwieldy title) but his recollections go back to the post-war era when he started creating compelling cinema. Indie cinema wouldn’t exist without him. August 12

People Places Things

People Places Things

(The Film Arcade) Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams, Stephanie Allyne. A Kiwi ex-pat living in New York City and working as a teacher, comes home one day to find his wife cheating on him. Already possessed of a kind of miserable life outlook, he completely falls apart but a new relationship with an African-American colleague gives him a hopeful outlook which he transfers to his twin daughters. Yes I know it sounds fairly typical, but anything with Jemaine Clement in it is bound to be extraordinary and the trailer for this indicates that this won’t be any exception. August 14

We Come as Friends

We Come as Friends

(FilmBuff) Hubert Sauper, David Gressley. Oscar-nominated documentarian Sauper followed up his Darwin’s Nightmare with a new film about the partitioning of Sudan with the new nation South Sudan breaking away in 2011. The complicated politics, the exploitation of her resources and the lingering colonialism and imperialism are all caught by Sauper’s unblinking eye. Using a plane he built himself to fly into remote areas, Sauper goes into remote parts of the South Sudan to talk to people who have no voice and less hope. August 14

Digging For Fire

Digging for Fire

(The Orchard) Orlando Bloom, Anna Kendrick, Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt. The latest from prolific director Joe Swanberg features his most star-studded ensemble cast yet. When a husband finds a gun and a bone on the hillside behind their home, it sends the two of them careening on separate adventures over the course of a weekend. With an impressive cast, mumblecore vet Swanberg looks to put together one of his quirkiest and yet most accessible films yet. Generally, his movies are always interesting even when they don’t always succeed. August 21