A well-acted yet erratic drama, What They Had follows siblings Bridget (Hilary Swank) and Nicky (Michael Shannon) as they come together after their Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother (Blythe Danner’s Ruth) goes missing during a snowstorm – with the movie detailing Bridget and Nicky’s subsequent efforts at convincing their father (Robert Forster’s Burt) to move Ruth into a nursing home. First-time filmmaker Elizabeth Chomko does an effective job of initially establishing the characters and the situation in which they find themselves, and it’s clear, too, that the writer/director has suffused the proceedings with an authenticity that generally proves difficult to resist – with this especially true of the impressively believable chemistry between Swank and Shannon’s respective figures (ie they feel like genuine siblings). There’s little doubt that the filmed-play-like bent of Chomko’s screenplay – the movie does, after all, transpire mostly within Burt and Ruth’s apartment – never quite becomes as problematic as one might’ve feared, as Chomko manages to avoid the staginess associated with stories of this ilk and instead cultivates an intimacy that’s awfully tough to resist. What They Had‘s overall impact is, however, dulled by a third act that doesn’t entirely work, with Chomko’s emphasis on late-in-the-game story elements paving the way for a final stretch that drags to a distressing extent (and also mutes the emotional resonance of a few key revelations) – which ultimately confirms the picture’s place as a decent debut that could’ve been so much better.
**1/2 out of ****