When my Uncle passed a few years back, I knew this loss would knock my mother for a loop. You see, his passing made my Mom the only living member of her immediate family. Grief is tricky. It comes in waves and when you least expect it. But, when you are the daughter of the person grieving it is even more daunting. You find yourself being strong for a loved one selflessly. That’s what being a caregiver is. Placing your life on pause while attempting to make a loved one’s quality of life better…period. Written and Directed by Elizabeth Chomko, What They Had throws a spotlight on a life altering experience for three generations faced with placing a loved one in a ‘memory home’ or continuing to make her life comfortable just as it is breaks your heart.
After Ruth (Blythe Danner) goes missing in a Chicago blizzard, Bridget (Hilary Swank) is summoned home by her brother Nicky (Michael Shannon). Already plagued with marital issues and an extremely complicated mother/daughter relationship with her own kid Emma (Taissa Farmiga), she returns to discover that her Mom is safe, but indeed declining before her eyes mentally. The subject seems to be close to home for Swantk, who took a break from the business for three years to be caregiver for one of her own parents for nearly three years. Emotionally this role is emotionally more complex than any I have ever seen her take on. There is one scene in particular where Bridget has a moment during a run in the park that will break your heart. As well as, those lucid moments from Ruth where she is very cognizant of what is happening to her mind and very moment that Bert (Robert Forster) realizes that love for his best girl isn’t enough to save her. Bert’s refusal to give up literally made me break into the ugly cry.
Every single actor in this film brings sensitivity, heart and complexity that strikes you right to the core when telling a story of dementia and how it affects a family from all sides. However, it is Forster, whose performance stuck with me long after the credits rolled. The manner in which he conveyed love, frustration, strength and vulnerability on one fell swoop is the stuff award-winning performances are made of . What They Had is an excellent portrayal of family love, tenacity and honor when it matters most. Anyone who has ever had to take care of a loved one or will be taking on this daunting task will appreciate the care in which this story is executed.
Produced by Bleecker Street Media, What They Had hits theaters on October 19th.