What They Had – A Review Haiku

Written by Elizabeth Chomko
Directed by Elizabeth Chomko

SYNOPSIS

A middle-aged woman living in California returns home to Chicago at her brother’s request when her mother’s Alzheimer’s worsens.

HAIKU REVIEW

Top Notch Script And Cast;
Genuine And Heartbreaking;
A Great Debut Film.

GRADE: A

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

My grandmother’s on my mother’s side had Alzheimer’s disease. As it progressed, the toll it took on her was no longer mental but physical as well, as she couldn’t remember to eat and began to almost wither away. Over her last few years, every time we saw her she was less and less of the person I had grown up knowing. Sure, her sweet and caring demeanor was still as intact as ever, but she looked lost as her memories faded. It was hard on the family, as her care became all-encompassing, first for my parents and later for my brother and his wife. Yesterday marked the first anniversary of her death, which made this even more of an emotional watch for me than it otherwise may have been. The family struggles, arguments and overall dynamics were so recognizable it was uncanny at times. But the film is nearly pitch-perfect in its portrayal of a family coping with the disease, and there is a certain amount of solace to be found in seeing other people going through the same struggle.

First time writer-director Elizabeth Chomko has made a beautiful, stunning, fierce piece of art that immediately put her on my list of filmmakers to keep an eye on. Her script is amazingly well-written, with every character feeling 100% real. Their pain is genuine and their dynamic is human and relatable, even for those lucky enough to never have to deal with this disease. It’s remarkable in its raw simplicity and effectiveness and gives a great cast a lot to dig into. Yes, it is sad, but the moments of dark humor thrown in do a good job of not only letting off some steam but also showing how families interact and cope with hardship, even when certain members haven’t seen each other in such a long time. There aren’t too many characters in the movie, so every possible relationship is explored and detailed. The cast carries the weight of the script beautifully and all four principals (Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner and Robert Forster) turn in wonderful performances. Danny Mulhern’s score hits all the right notes to drive home the loneliness and other mixed emotions on display, adding another layer to what was already a very powerful movie.

In the interest of self-preservation, I’ll avoid going through all the ways this film hit home with me and simply say that it is a fantastic film with heavy subject matter. It’s easy to imagine the reluctance one would feel about putting their spouse of half a century into the care of others, which is the dilemma at the heart of the story. Letting go of that control feels like the first step in letting go of the person and no matter what we may tell ourselves, there is no real feeling of readiness for that.


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