What They Had
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What They Had

A deluxe ensemble cast and a judicious trickle of minor-key humor elevate debuting writer-director Elizabeth Chomko’s intergenerational family drama, What They Had. However, while the crisis that brings the key characters together is the urgent need to make decisions about the care of their mother as her mind rapidly succumbs to Alzheimer’s, the predominant focus is the emotional adjustment of her daughter, whose homecoming prompts her to face truths about the hollowness of her marriage. That’s unfortunate, as it makes dementia a secondary issue to more regularly trafficked domestic concerns.

Still, the classy production works well within its own scope, and it should resonate in particular with audiences who have experienced the painful loss of a parent, either to diminishing lucidity or to death. Paradoxically, however, the standout element in this movie, where women so often occupy cente screen, is the spiky father-son relationship. That dynamic is played with marvelous bite by Robert Forster as an obstinate former military man in deep denial about his wife’s condition, and Michael Shannon as the son who’s too much like the old man to get along and too much of a blunt realist to sugarcoat the situation.

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